Normally when Phil Mickelson says he hit it well after carding a 76, it’s a dubious claim.
In his opening round at Augusta National, it was absolute fact.
The three-time Masters champ hit 12 greens and nine fairways en route to a four-over round, good enough for 67th place after opening day at Augusta. Those weren’t mind-blowing stats, but they weren’t stats fit for a 76, either. The few misses with his often-erratic driver were mere steps off the fairway instead of giant leaps into the pine straw.
“There were possibilities,” Mickelson said. “I know it’s hard to say that, but I played well. I didn’t hit anything unsolid; I hit it solid. I just threw away several shots out there.”
He filled up the garbage bag at No. 7.
The 450-yard par-4 plays fairly tough, especially after the tee was moved 40 yards back in 2006. It’s a narrow tee shot, but Mickelson’s drive wasn’t the issue, as his shot came to rest one pace into the left rough. His approach wasn’t the problem either. His iron shot skipped to the back edge of the green, leaving a less than ideal, but not impossible birdie try.
With his feet on the edge of the rear bunker, Mickelson opted to try a chip instead of putting and rolled his ball past the hole — and off the green. He pitched back onto the green and faced an 8-footer for bogey, which he pulled. He pushed his 6-footer for double, and made his 3-footer for triple. It was the only 7 of the day at No. 7.
Mickelson said every green prior to the seventh was playing soft, and the errant chip was a result of a miscalculation. At Augusta, miscalculations lead to triple-bogeys.
His roller-coaster was only beginning. After making the turn at three-over, he faced a left-to-right 40-footer to birdie at the 10th hole. He threw it out on the high side and watched the ball roll until it slowed almost to a stop before it disappeared into the cup. The crowd roared, and Mickelson threw his hands in the air and said to no in particular, “Are you kidding me?”
He would par the two toughest holes on the course on 11 and 12, birdie 13, bogey 14 and double 15, his first bogey or worse at the par-5 15th since 2000.
In his Wednesday press conference, Mickelson said he had not had a shot between 90 and 130 yards at Augusta National in the last six years. After laying up at No. 15, he had a short wedge from inside 100 yards into the green. He “eased into it,” he said later and watched as his ball hit the front bank and spin back into the water.
It was another miscalculation, and another seven on the scorecard.
In his three Masters victories, Mickelson shot first-round scores of 72, 70 and 67. His 76 is the worst opening-round score of his career at Augusta, and immediately throws him into catch-up mode.
In his post-round interview, Mickelson began to lament his mental mistakes in detail and outline how tough his day was. Then the ever-optimistic and endearing side that makes him a fan favorite emerged.
“But it sure was a beautiful day out there,” he said.