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Devil Ball Golf

Phil Mickelson produces a roller-coaster round for the ages

Jonathan Wall
Devil Ball Golf

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One of the many sandy areas where Phil Mickelson spent Thursday afternoon. — Getty Images

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Kiawah Island's website states that the tiny barrier island in South Carolina is 11.2 square miles of land. Assuming that's the case, you have to believe Phil Mickelson saw at least 11.1 of those miles on Thursday afternoon at the PGA Championship.

Mickelson's 1-over 73 won't show up in any record books, but if you missed out on the coverage of the four-time major winner's roller-coaster first 18 holes, well, you missed out on a doozy of a round that had it all: brilliant shots from precarious lies in the sand, inexplicable misses on the green, and blind approaches from the middle of nowhere to within 15 feet of the hole.

It was, without question, the most entertaining round of the day, as Mickelson went out in the afternoon and opened with only three pars in his first eight holes, picking up three birdies and two bogeys to make the turn in 1-under 35.

[Related: John Daly puts together a remarkable opening round]

Then came the back nine. If Mickelson was trying to prove to Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who was paired with Mickelson this week at the PGA Championship, that he could scramble from any lie, he did a bang-up job for much of the last nine.

Starting on the par-4 10th, Mickelson found his ball embedded in a mixture of sand and grass on the short side of the green. Needing to land it just on the putting surface to give himself a chance to save par, he pulled the wedge back and blasted the shot out, watching as the ball landed just on the fringe and trickeld to within 10 feet of the hole.

"I've seen a lot of really good illusionists," CBS's Gary McCord said of Mickelson's incredible short game. "This is the best illusionist I've seen for a while now."

But there was just one problem: the illusionist couldn't convert the par putt. He had a similar situation after he blew his approach shot well right of the hole and was left with a blind approach to the green. Like McIlroy when his ball found the cabins on Augusta National's 10th hole, Mickelson located an area of the Ocean Course that we likely wouldn't have seen all week.

It was one of those Mickelson moments that made you shake your head and laugh after he picked a point and hit an absolute laser of an approach to 15 feet, watching as the ball checked and spun back a few feet.

Of course, Mickelson missed the birdie to stay at even par for the day, but the first two holes on the back-nine proved once again that there isn't a shot on the planet that causes Phil Mickelson to lose sleep. He's ready and willing to attack any pin from any lie.

Sure, he missed a handful of makable putts, only managed to hit seven fairway and five greens on the day and convert 7 of his 11 scramble opportunities, but the fact that he somehow still managed to shoot 1-over on the day was nothing short of amazing. And oh, by the way, Mickelson had 11 one-putts on the day.

The funny thing is, he wasn't even impressed by his ability to salvage the round, saying afterwards that he "didn't think [the round] was spectacular." It obviously wasn't the sub-65 round he was looking for, but Mickelson provided some incredible fireworks on Thursday and once again proved that when it comes to sheer entertainment value, there's no one better on tour than the swashbuckling lefty.

The crazy thing is we could see more fireworks from Mickelson on Friday morning. With conditions expected to be similar to what players saw on Thursday morning, Mickelson said he's ready to press and go birdie hunting.

"I'm going to do after it a little bit tomorrow and see if I can get it down there and play a little more aggressive," Mickelson said, "and if I hit some good tee shots, I feel like there's some low scores out there."

Buckle up, golf fans: It looks like we could be in for another wild ride on the Mickelson roller-coaster.

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