Mickelson opens with rare 77 at Torrey Pines

Phil Mickelson at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Phil Mickelson at the Farmers Insurance Open. ( Associated Press )

Friday, January 27, 2012

Editor's note: Phil Mickelson shot 68 in Round 2 to miss the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.

SAN DIEGO – Phil Mickelson hit his ball into 10 bunkers Thursday. Spencer Levin and Kyle Stanley shot 10 under par.

Mickelson shot 77. The two co-leaders shot 62.

That means a few odd things. The hometown legend found himself 15 strokes off a first-round lead, maybe his largest deficit ever after an opening day, anywhere. The margin is even more stunning considering it came at Torrey Pines, where he has won three times on the PGA Tour, all before a 2001 South Course renovation that didn’t delight him.

For certain, the 77 tied his second highest score ever in this tournament, now named the Farmers Insurance Open. He shot 78 in the third round in 2005 and 77 in Round 3 in ’97. Runner-up here last year, Mickelson has played 80 rounds in 23 starts in this event.

Also certain is that the World Golf Hall of Fame inductee walked off disappointed and confused after entering the season and the week with high hopes at age 41. All parts of his game were off, particularly driving and putting, and he even stubbed a chip shot a few feet.

“It’s a little disappointing that the first round here and the first round last week (74 at the Humana Challenge) have been so poor because I felt really ready and sharper than I have in a long time starting the year,” said Mickelson, whose score beat only six players in the 156-man field and left him in a tie for 147th. “So to shoot those numbers, I don’t get it.”

Mickelson made his mess on the tougher South Course, site of the 2008 U.S. Open. In a typical occurrence, 15 of the top 16 scorers played the easier North, where touring pros go to get well and lower their handicaps.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him at such a loss, save perhaps after he double-bogeyed the last hole at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot and lost by one.

Asked what went wrong here, he said, “I’m not sure.”

This is the same man who felt momentum building with a 69-66-69 finish at the Humana, where he tied for 49th. And the same man who felt he had some good days of practice here.

“I was ready to play,” the winner of 39 Tour titles said. “I don’t know what happened. I just wasn’t able to focus. Obviously I made some bad swings just in the wrong spots and so forth. But I felt like my game was ready heading in, and I don’t know what to say about the score because it was pathetic.”

He said he wasn’t sure why he had difficulty focusing. All he knew is he didn’t hit the ball where he was aiming, over and over. That added up to seven bogeys against two birdies.

He hit six of 14 fairways, including the last three, and only nine greens in regulation. Nor was the blade hot, for he took 32 putts.

Mainly he spent a lot of time in bunkers. He drove into fairway sand four times, three to the left. He found six greenside bunkers, getting up and down twice.

Mickelson did show signs of life near the end. He made a 3-foot birdie putt at the difficult, par-4 17th, a hole that has spoiled many a round over the years. And he hit the par-5 18th in two, but then lipped out a 3-footer for birdie.

Until those last two holes, he had only one birdie putt inside of 20 feet, a short one converted on a par 5.

“I thought I had birdie on 18 (but) missed the little one,” Mickelson said after his highest Tour round since a 78 in the final round of the 2010 WGC Bridgestone Invitational. “That would have gotten me to a point where I thought if I could have shot 6- or 7-under par on the North, I’d at least get here for the weekend and build some momentum.”

Instead a rare weekend off appears almost certain.

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