He certainly flirted with disaster several times on his back nine, particularly at the 504-yard fifth, where his tee shot nearly landed in a stream down the left side. With an awkward side-hill stance on the long par-4, he advanced his second shot up the fairway, hit a sand wedge from 100 yards out to within 12 feet and made the par-saving putt. At the 487-yard sixth, he landed in a greenside bunker, blasted to seven feet and made that putt as well.
“Those two par putts, those are the momentum-builders that are important in the rounds at the U.S. Open,” he said. “They actually give you more of a boost than the birdies do.”
In all he had four birdies, including a breaking 30-foot putt at No. 1 on his back nine, and was off to his best Open start since a first-round 69 in 2009, when he tied for second at Bethpage Black. Mickelson has nine top-10 Open finishes in his career, including a solo second in 1999, the day before Amanda was born. Mickelson had talked about dropping out that year if his wife, Amy, had gone into labor but was able to finish the tournament and fly back to California in time for the birth.
Mickelson said his flight back to Philadelphia might have helped his preparation for a tournament he wants to win more than any other.
“I think that mental preparation is every bit as important as physical,” he said, “and I was able to take the time on the plane to read my notes, study, relive the golf course, go through how I was going to play each hole, where the pins were, where I wanted to miss it, where I wanted to be, study the green charts. It gave me a great few hours to study my notes and get mentally prepared.”
And the graduation?
“Four kids spoke, and she was one,” he said. “She did a great job, and she even quoted Ron Burgundy, so it was funny. And I was really glad I was there. … She told me, ‘Stay, it’s the U.S. Open.’ I told her I want to be there. I don’t want to miss that. She spent nine years at that school, and she’s worked very hard. I’m very proud of her.”