Mickelson plots his path back to US Open contention

Some of the earliest news out of this 115th U.S. Open was some of the most fascinating.

Phil Mickelson, lacking only a U.S. Open for his career grand slam, was 1 under after two holes, 2 under after four and at the head of the pack at 3 under after five holes.

However, that has proved to be his high water mark after two days. The lightning start gave way to a slow slide that moved Mickelson to 1-under at the end of the first round, and had him flirting closer to the cut line than the lead heading down the stretch Friday at Chambers Bay.

But he made it at plus-4, living to fight another two days. And he said he will report to the course Saturday morning with the goal of climbing back among the leaders.

“I’ll have to come out … and kind of get a good game plan and figure out how to shoot something in the mid-60s and get back in it,” Mickelson said. “Very difficult for anybody to run away with it. But I’m going to have to hopefully get conditions in the morning that are a little bit easier and then progressively get more difficult for the leaders — because that’s really my only chance to catch up.”

Mickelson’s 4 over on Friday left him with nine shots to make up. But he saw how things could have been better: He could have dropped more putts.

“I had three 3-putts,” said Mickelson, whose group played the back nine first. “I 3-putted the 12th, that par 4. I 3-putted 10, which hurt; and 18. … That was when I was really fighting to stay right in it. I could have used a little boost right there to keep me around par.”

He stabilized by rolling off five straight pars before ending his round bogey, bogey, birdie, par. It got him through, and it kept his hopes alive.

Mickelson, 45, has won three Masters, one British Open, one PGA Championship and a startling six second-place finishes in the U.S. Open.

If he is going to get within striking distance of first or second again, he knows what club is key.

“It’s a totally fair setup. Plenty of room to hit. Tee to green, I think it’s an excellent test,” he said. “The surface area around the hole is a bit challenging for everybody. … But I do need to find a way to get it in the hole.”