With 7,000 or so yards to consider, Phil Mickelson catapulted himself into contention Friday at the U.S. Open with what often is considered routine — a 3-foot putt.
The short, uphill birdie on the second hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links began what about five hours later became the best round of the tournament, a 5-under 66.
The six-birdie, one-bogey day gave Mickelson a 1-under 141 total, and he’s now tied for second, two strokes behind leader
Graeme McDowell at the 110th national championship.
“I thought something in the 60s was out there and would get me into contention,” said Mickelson, who had an opening round 75.
“I knew I needed to get off to a quick start because the birdie holes are the first seven, and I needed to capitalize on that.”
With fans on some holes 10 rows deep chanting, “Phil, Phil, Phil,” Mickelson relied on his signature short game and putting touch to position himself in familiar turf — second place.
Although he’s won three majors, Mickelson has yet to win the U.S. Open, but has famously finished second five times.
“I think that birdieing the second hole, even though it was only a 3-footer, it was uphill, I was able to be aggressive and
roll it in,” said Mickelson. “To see a putt, a birdie putt go in … it just gave me some confidence. I ended up making a couple thereafter, and it led to a good round.
“I knew I had been putting well. It was just a minor tweak here or there that was going to make the
difference, and it was just a slight adjustment in the setup and all of a sudden the ball starts rolling on line now.”
With the reputation of Pebble Beach as two distinct nine-hole layouts, Mickelson accomplished exactly what he and many others predicted as the best approach. He had a front-nine 31 (four under) and played the back nine in 35 (one under).
Mickelson’s birdie binge, six in the first 11 holes, was particularly surprising since he didn’t have a birdie in the first round. It was the first time in 24 tournaments and nearly 100 rounds that Mickelson didn’t produce a birdie in a round.
Padraig Harrington, who with Y.E. Yang played with Mickelson in the first two rounds, said: “(Mickelson) was spectacular all day. I got to see it first hand. He didn’t miss a shot all day. He had the ball well under control. Best I’ve ever seen him play. It was as easy a 66 as you ll ever see.”
Mickelson, who was 116th in the field in putting after the first round, explained his improvement regarding his position on the greens.
“These greens, you can lose confidence on them quite quickly because the ball won’t hold its line,” he said. “The biggest thing for me was I had a lot of uphill putts. I had 1 downhill putt that kind of waffled off line at the hole on 9.
“Other than that, like on 18, I was conscious not to roll it 2 or 3 feet by. I left it 3 feet uphill and was able to hit it aggressive enough to hold its line and get it to go. I think that the biggest thing is that I was able to have enough birdie putts that were uphill.”