CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Phil Mickelson is back on the course - and he brought his putter.
After spending the past few weeks breaking in a new putter and working on his short game, Mickelson made an encouraging return to tournament play Thursday during the first round of the Wachovia Championship.
His 4-under 68 included five birdies, a could've-been-worse bogey and, most importantly, some close-range consistency that was reminiscent of his only win of the year, his two-stroke triumph over Jeff Quigley in February at the Northern Trust Open.
"I made a lot of putts there, but I didn't feel good with the putter. They went in, but I didn't feel confident with the way they were rolling," Mickelson said. "Today was a different day for me on the greens. I mean, not only did I make a lot, but the ones that missed were tracking and coming close to the edges. So I feel like heading in here, I'm actually putting better, even though I made a lot that week."
Playing at the familiar Quail Hollow Club course where he has three top-seven finishes in four appearances, he posted numbers that back it up.
Mickelson made a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 1, his 10th hole of the day, and that came after he escaped No. 18 with a bogey. He sent his second shot into the water left of the green, took a drop, placed his fourth shot 8 feet from the pin and made that putt to generate some momentum.
"You can afford to lose a shot around this course," Mickelson said. "You'll make some mistakes, you'll make some bogeys, but you don't want to have huge mistakes like doubles, and to make that up-and-down, make that putt, that was a big one."
He finished with birdies on two of his final three holes, wrapping up his round by making a 25-foot chip shot on No. 9 that put him atop the leaderboard for a while.
In all, he made 15 of 16 putts from inside 10 feet to address an old bugaboo - he had several misses from close range during a disastrous third round that helped knocked him out of contention at the Masters, his most recent tournament. Since then, he ditched his 33 1/2-inch putter in favor of one that is 1 1/2 inches longer.
"It's good to see some positive results from the time I spent the last couple weeks," Mickelson said.
NOTHING AMATEUR ABOUT HIM: Trevor Murphy skipped this weekend's Atlantic 10 championship for a shot at playing against the pros. Smart decision.
The UNC Charlotte senior and last-minute qualifier shot a 71 â€” not bad for an amateur playing one of the PGA Tour's roughest non-majors.
"I couldn't even feel the golf club in my hand on my first tee shot," Murphy said.
Murphy didn't even make it into the field for this tournament until earlier this week. Because his college team was off last weekend in preparation for the league championship in Orlando, Fla., the former world-class skiier entered himself in Monday's qualifier and tied another player for the final spot through 18 holes.
He came back the next day for a playoff, needing two extra holes to claim a spot in a field that includes 18 of the world's top 25 players.
"I told myself, 'I just want to break 80 and not slow anyone down in the group,"' Murphy said. "It worked out well." \n
PUTTING PROBLEMS: Geoff Ogilvy's poor putting kept him from taking the lead.
Ogilvy didn't have any bogeys during his opening-round 70, but he missed several reasonable birdie putts that prevented him from making a charge up the leaderboard.
He missed a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 8, his 17th hole of the round, before tapping in a 2-footer, then finished his day by missing a 30-foot birdie attempt and making a 1-footer.
"Just missed putt after putt. It was horrible, really," Ogilvy said. "I'm not going to practice because practicing my putting tends to make me putt worse, so I'm going to go home and learn to putt better."
SPEED UP!: They've complained about slow play for years on the PGA Tour, and that topic was discussed during a pre-tournament meeting.
"We talked a lot about it, and we always do," David Toms said. "The issue came up this time about golf course setup, and why does it have to be so difficult. A lot of guys believe that is one of the reasons for the slow play. ... Golf course setup is why you see pro golfers, the best in the world, a guy shoot 67 and then another guy shoot 79 is because there is such a fine line there. You get on the wrong side, and it just takes a while.
"So, I think we can do a combination of things. "If you ask the field staff, they would tell you there's way too many people playing, and you can't get them around that fast. Golf course setup, I think, is a big deal. If you saw pins in the middle of the greens like you do for the pro-am, I think we'd get along a lot quicker. All of it goes hand in hand."