Mickelson can't get into focus

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during the first round of the U.S. Open on the...

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during the first round of the U.S. Open on the Lake Course at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., June 14, 2012. (MATT SULLIVAN/Reuters)

IAN HUTCHINSON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:27 AM ET

Before we begin, just give me a moment to check something.

OK, Phil Mickelson hasn’t withdrawn, although there are no guarantees until he, Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson tee off Friday at 1:18 p.m. local time at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Apparently, the shutter was closed on the camera Mickelson was using to get “the big picture” on the U.S. Open that he talked about when he pulled out of the Memorial a couple of weeks ago.

That big picture was blurred in the first round on Thursday, when Mickelson shot a surprising 76 and it could have been worse after hitting just half of the fairways and putting his ball in about every position that he shouldn’t put it.

“I'll go out (Friday) and see if I can shoot something under par,” said Mickelson.

Just as it was when he shot a 79 at the Memorial before his WD, it will be a daunting task for Mickelson to make the weekend. Maybe, he can try an albatross as Nick Watney did with a five iron from 190 yards on 17. That tends to move you up the leaderboard quickly.

The good news is that, if the big picture comes into focus, Mickelson is capable and the leaderboard may stall where it is now. Actually, it isn’t a stretch to believe it might come back with the way this golf course is playing.

Watney joined Woods and David Toms among the players who shot a one-under 69, with players still on the course, to sit three back of surprise leader Michael Thompson. Instead of trying to duplicate Watney’s albatross, Mickelson may want to take note of Tiger’s patient game.

If Mickelson is to get back into this, he may have to do something un-Phil by putting away the driver. On Thursday, Woods mostly ignored his driver and went with irons to hit 10 of 14 fairways, a necessity at the Olympic Club.

“Today, it was quicker and the tees were somewhat up from where we played our practice rounds,” said Woods.

“Consequently that's 20 yards. Twenty yards is a lot. And all of a sudden we're in the steeper part of slopes or now we're through doglegs. I had to make the adjustment,” he added.

If Woods plays anywhere close to the way he did on Thursday, there’s every reason to believe that he’ll charge the lead, even if the unknown Thompson decides to stay where he is today.

Meanwhile, Mickelson can look no further than that ugly 78 shot by Watson, the Masters champ, right in front of him on Thursday to realize that he’s not alone and the pitfalls are plenty, even for those ahead of him, with so much of the Open yet to be played.

“If you’re off your game just a little bit, you’re going to pay the price and it’s hard to make pars. Phil and Bubba were off just a little bit,” said Woods.

“This is one of those Opens where it's just really hard to make birdies. This is not like it was last year. This is a tough one. This is tough to make birdies,” he added.

ZINGER’S ZINGER

There had been little time to criticize before Paul Azinger made like an ESPN cheerleader by overcooking an apology for Mickelson’s first round 76, citing the fact that Mickelson has arthritis, which he doesn’t like to talk about. Zinger didn’t say Mickelson had told him that he’d had a flare-up, so what was the point if he had no inside knowledge? Continuing the rah-rah session, Azinger then told us Mickelson was the best lefthander to play the game ... In ESPN’s defence, they did take the tour to task for fighting Casey Martin’s use of a golf cart years ago ... You heard a lot about the first six holes before the Open began and here’s an idea what happened there. Andy Zhang, the 14-year-old amateur who was nine over on Thursday, followed a triple bogey and double bogey on the first two holes with three consecutive bogeys before finally making par, but we’re not picking on a teenager. World No. 1 Luke Donald was four over on that stretch, as was Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler, who had a double bogey on five and a bogey on six. Swede Peter Hanson, who tied for third at the Masters, was six over on the front six. Need we say more? ... Woods, by the way, was one under over those six holes.

THOSE LOVABLE LONGSHOTS

Dennis Miller, the Ohio golf pro who hit it big time with a putt that hung on the edge, then fell much to his dismay in qualifying, got a dose of reality, finishing 10-over ... Michael Allen, the oldest player in the field at 53, remarked about his chances at playing the Open on his home course. “Who has a chance to beat me? Oh, yeah, everybody in the field.” It may be gamesmanship since Allen posted a 71 and has won twice on the Champions Tour this year.


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