COMMENTARY | Give Phil Mickelson credit, he knows what to expect from his game.
On the eve of the Masters, Lefty said he was worried about the rust of not playing in a tournament the week before as has been his custom. He usually plays in Atlanta or Houston ahead of Augusta but a calendar quirk had the Valero Texas Open as the run-up tournament, a course setup that Mickelson says wouldn't have prepared him well for the year's first major.
Sure enough, Mickelson got off to a poor start in Thursday's first round. A three-putt bogey on the short, par-4 third was the first of three front-nine bogeys that caused him to make the turn in an ugly 2-over-par 38.
All it took for the Mickelson roller coaster to get back on track was a laser wedge shot to four feet on the par-3 12th hole for birdie. He went on to birdie both par-5s (13 and 15) and added a bonus birdie after a pretty 9-iron approach to the par-3 16th hole.
In a little over an hour, Mickelson jumped from 2-over to 2-under and smack in the middle of the contention for his fourth green jacket.
But never one to grind conservatively to the finish, he went on to bogey 17 then lipped out for birdie on the final hole to finish with a 1-under-par 71.
He's tied for 23rd on a day that saw nine players shoot 68 or better. Mickelson described Thursday's playing conditions as a "birdiefest" to ESPN and added that Augusta National was set up too soft and forgiving.
Phil's opening round may also have been a bit soft, but it couldn't have been much worse. He hit more greens than anyone in the field (15 of 18) but struggled once he got there, taking an atrocious 34 putts. Only four players took more putts Thursday.
"I feel like I'm rolling every one on line. I feel really good with the putter," Mickelson said afterward.
That confidence leads me to believe that if he can get the flat stick straightened out overnight - anyone know if putting guru Dave Stockton is around for quick lesson? - Mickelson will be right in the mix for the weekend.
"I can't wait to get back on the course tomorrow," Mickelson said. "I think I can really light it up."
To do so, Lefty must improve on Augusta's par-4s. He was fine on most of the brutes, parring holes 1, 10, and 11, but bogeyed the 350-yard third then failed to get up and down on the 455-yard fifth, the 450-yard seventh, and the 440-yard 17th.
Dustin Johnson Finally a Factor
With his length and talent, it's a wonder it took Dustin Johnson this long to post a good score at the Masters.
On the strength of the only eagle of the day on the par-5 13th hole, DJ fired an opening round 5-under-par 67, his best score in 13 rounds at Augusta National, to sit solo third. Johnson bested playing partner Fred Couples by a shot as Freddy's Masters mojo rubbed off on the game's best 20-something this side of Rory McIlroy.
Johnson's rare combination of power and touch will come in handy if he's in contention over the weekend. He led the field in driving distance Thursday with an average blow of 317 yards and needed only 24 putts around Augusta's softened greens.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.
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