Phil Mickelson, who has suffered more U.S. Open heartache than any other player, thrilled his fans as he moved into contention on Thursday for the only major title which has eluded him.
The American left-hander, who has been a runner-up in his national championship a record six times, ground out an even-par 70 in the opening round at Pinehurst Resort to finish two strokes off the early pace.
“I drove it great,” five-times major winner Mickelson, whose most recent runner-up finish at the U.S. Open came last year at Merion, told reporters. “Every time I hit driver, I hit the fairway. I putted OK but didn’t make the ones you need to make, the 15, 20-footers, you need to have a good round.”
American Kevin Na and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach, both opened with 68s on Pinehurst’s fabled No. 2 Course where danger lurked on virtually every hole because of the unique turtle-back greens.
Swedish world number two Henrik Stenson, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Americans Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth and Brendon Todd carded 69s while defending champion Justin Rose of England launched his title defence with a 72.
McDowell was delighted with his course management to start the season’s second major as he recovered from an early bogey with an eagle at the fifth before picking up another shot at the par-four 14th.
“I’m very pleased,” said the 34-year-old from Portrush. “It wasn’t my best ball-striking display this morning, but you don’t have to strike it amazing around here, you just have to position the ball correctly at all times.
“I spent the last few days just preparing myself mentally for the challenge, really, knowing that this golf course wasn’t going to give much and it was only going to take.”