That child Amanda graduated from eighth grade Wednesday a stark reminder to Mickelson who will be 43 on Sunday of time s passage. The future that stretched before him 14 years ago has disappeared into thin air much like the three hours he lost overnight by flying here from San Diego after attending his daughter s school ceremony.
Mickelson left the San Diego area in his private jet after hearing his daughter one of four speakers deliver a commencement address. He landed in Philadelphia at roughly 3 30 a.m. Thursday. He slept for two hours on the plane he said and squeezed in another hour s sleep then arrived at the course at 5 37. Around ninety minutes later Mickelson made his 23rd start in the Open.
Five times a United States Open runner up and never a winner Mickelson overcame a three putt bogey on his first hole to card a three under par 67 on Merion Golf Club s East Course. In his 22 previous United States Open starts he had opened with a score lower than 68 only once at Pinehurst in 1999.
Asked to assess his start Mickelson grinned and said Pretty good.
Seventeen and a half hours elapsed between the start of his coast to coast commute and the end of his round. It s been a long day he said.
Playing alongside Keegan Bradley and Steve Stricker Mickelson completed five holes before an electrical storm moved through the area causing a suspension of play that lasted 3 hours 31 minutes. There was a second 45 minute weather suspension in the early evening when Tiger Woods Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott the top three players in the world who were grouped together were on the fifth green.
Woods a 14 time major champion bogeyed three of the first five holes and was seen grimacing and shaking his left hand after hitting shots out of the rough on the 1st 4th and 11th holes. His group was on the 11th green when play was called because of darkness.
When play was suspended Luke Donald through 13 holes was the leader at four under.
When the first wave of bad weather hit Mickelson was at even par having made a birdie at the par 3 13th his third hole. During the delay he managed to take a one hour nap. After the round resumed he made birdies at Nos. 1 7 and 9. That propelled him up the leader board but two par saving putts covering 12 feet at the fifth hole and 8 feet at the sixth provided more of a boost.
I think in the U.S. Open par saves are as big or bigger than birdies because you don t really expect birdies Mickelson said. Those are the momentum builders that are important.
Mickelson s momentum ground to a halt when his group had to wait at the tee on No. 1 for the three players directly ahead of them to hit their drives and second shots. During the 15 minute delay Mickelson finished a caffeinated energy drink in one gulp and chased it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
On the clubhouse veranda a few yards from the tee box Mike Davis the executive director of the United States Golf Association which conducts the tournament was having lunch. Mickelson engaged him in a short conversation. I think it s the best U.S. Open setup I ve ever seen Mickelson said later and that s what I was telling him.
Mickelson began the week in Memphis where he closed with a 67 to finish in a tie for second at the St. Jude Classic. From there he flew to Philadelphia. Upon finding out that thunderstorms were headed for the area Mickelson left Monday for San Diego. There he was able to practice in pristine conditions in the days leading up to his daughter s ceremony and her speech in which she quoted Ron Burgundy the character played by Will Ferrell in the movie Anchorman.
It might be abnormal he said referring to his itinerary but it actually worked out really well.
He traveled the extra 5 468 miles or thereabouts even though his daughter whose impending birth in 1999 prompted Mickelson to carry a beeper in his pocket at Pinehurst in case his wife went into labor told him to stay in Philadelphia.
She told me It s fine it s the U.S. Open and I know how much you care about it Mickelson said. I told her I want to be there.
Mickelson said he was glad he made the effort. I m really proud of her he said. She did a great job.
Mickelson a four time major champion said he spent part of Wednesday night s flight studying the notes he compiled on Merion while playing the course during a visit two weeks ago.
I think mental preparation is every bit as important as physical he said and I think I was able to take the time on the plane to go through how I was going to play each hole where I want to miss it where I want to be study the green charts.
In his comments after his victory in 1999 Stewart said Phil is going to have an opportunity to win again.
Fourteen years later Mickelson knows his opportunities are dwindling. If I m able to ultimately win a U.S. Open I would say that it s great because I will have had a win and five seconds he said. But if I never get that win then it would be a little heartbreaking.