Spander: Favorite Mickelson suffers through poor first day

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Sorry about that, Phil. But that’s often what happens when you reach 40. Your putting falls apart.

Ben Hogan was a basket case on the greens when he crossed the magic number. Sam Snead even tried hitting a ball like he was playing croquet, not golf.

Phil Mickelson turned 40 on Wednesday, and then Thursday he played the first round of the 2010 U.S. Open. There weren’t many happy returns. There were, however, a great number of missed putts.

Mickelson, as has been his choice in recent events, was dressed in all funeral black, a stark contrast to the greatest scenery available, the hills, surf, and on this day, clear blue sky which embrace Pebble Beach, where the 110th Open started its four-day visit.

This has been Phil’s year, a third Masters victory, and according to Bloomberg services, a popularity rating raising him into celebrity status previously held only by the chastened Tiger Woods.

Five times previously Mickelson has finished second in an Open, and now, with the tournament at Pebble, where Phil had three victories in the AT&T, he was a justified favorite.

But oh that beginning, a 4-over-par 75, and a full 18 holes without a birdie for the first time in any tournament since the opening round of the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

“I was terrible on the greens,” said Mickelson, properly assessing his failure. “One of my worst putting days.

“I thought I played — obviously I didn’t score well — but I thought I played pretty well. The pin placements were great. The rough was very fair. But I’ve just got to make birdies, and when I missed those 5-footers and a 3-footer and a couple of 10-footers, it was just very frustrating to me.”

And a little embarrassing to the dolt who was keeping the scoreboard near the par-3 fifth and posted the man’s name as “MICHELSON.” But, hey, it’s California, where spelling is down the list of importance below Maui Jim sunglasses and tickets to “Toy Story 3.”

A little embarrassing to Mickelson were his shots on 17, the par-3, and then the infamous par-5 18. At 17, he found the beach, needed a penalty drop and bogeyed. At 18, Lefty’s tee shot landed behind a not-so lonesome pine. With 252 yards to the green, Phil tried to hook it around the tree into a bunker. The ball bounced off the rocks and like the rabbit in the Energizer commercials, kept going and going. Next stop, Carmel Bay. The third of three straight bogeys.

“I thought going without any doubles (double-bogeys) was good,” said Mickelson. “But my putting, there’s something a little off. I’ll have to work on it.”

And quickly.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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