Up-and-down day for Watson, Mickelson
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Phil Mickelson outdid himself Thursday in the first round of the Greenbrier Classic, and it wasn't a good thing.
Far from it.
The sixth-ranked player in the world put his large gallery on an emotional rollercoaster, staying at even through 16 holes. He smacked a 342-yard drive on the seventh, chipped in for a birdie on the ninth and reached the par-5 12th in two en route to a birdie.
Then he pulled his drive on the par-5 17th into Howard's Creek, and everything fell apart.
A gruesome "snowman" triple bogey and a no-excuse bogey on No. 18 later, Mickelson had to sign for 4-over 74.
In his five mostly futile rounds on the Old White TPC course, this was his worst round yet. And the 17th was the worst hole yet.
"I felt like I was playing really well heading in here, and I don't play this course well," he said. "I don't know that the reasoning is, it's just given me problems the past few years."
Bubba Watson appeared headed for disaster from the opening drive, but regrouped and finished with a solid 2-under 68 to lead the all-lefty trio that included Mickelson and Ted Potter Jr. Unlike Mickelson, Watson birdied the 17th to make his first Old White round a modest success.
Potter, the 2012 Greenbrier champ, fired a 69. His mostly solid round was sullied by a double bogey on the par-3 eighth.
But that wasn't as nasty as Mickelson's 17th.
He started the 594-yard hole by pulling his drive into the creek, which not only gave him a penalty stroke, but he had to march way back to make his drop, based on where the ball entered the hazard. As he was hitting his third shot, he was 401 yards away.
His fourth shot went left into a greenside bunker, and he overshot the hole by 32 feet on his sand shot. He missed that putt, then muffed a 6-footer coming back.
On the 173-yard 18th, he missed the green right, chipped up and missed a 71/2-footer for par.
He kept his usual smile, but didn't hide his frustration. He has expressed his love for the course many times, but has never finished well.
He will need a low, low number - perhaps a 64 - to play in his first Saturday at Old White.
"It's one of those things where I hit - No. 1 is a great example - where I hit a perfect tee shot in the middle of the fairway, I hit a great 9-iron to 6 feet and I end up missing the putt.
"I don't feel bad about my game. I'll come out tomorrow, see how low I can go."
Watson parred the first six holes, but the first three were far from easy. He pulled his opening tee shot right - not a good thing to do on No. 1, but he eventually chipped to 16 inches for par. He had to two-putt from 52 feet on the second hole and pull off a sand save on the third to keep it even.
He birdied the seventh, thanks in part to a 326-yard drive, but gave it back with a bogey on the tough eighth. He did the same thing on Nos. 10 and 11, chunking a greenside chip 31/2 feet on the latter hole.
He reached the green in two on the 566-yard 12th and made birdie, and birdied the 17th, thanks in part to a masterfully placed 300-yard fairway shot.
The man with the pink driver didn't disappoint the masses with the long ball, shots that seemed to start out as low screamers but eventually picked up short-iron-type altitude before falling to Earth. His longest drive was a 330-yard poke on the sixth, a heavy-hitter's favorite, and he topped the 300-yard mark seven times.
"I played solid all day," he said. "First hole is a tough tee shot for me, so I scrambled a little bit. Third hole, I thought I hit a pretty good shot, just cutting more than I thought. So I scrambled the first three holes, really, but I was solid all day. Just didn't make any putts."
You could say that. He missed three putts inside 10 feet and made none over 10 feet. Mickelson was worse, hitting 1 of 8 putts from 5-10 feet.
"I'm struggling reading these greens, really having a hard time on the 5-, 6-footers," he said. "They look so straight to me and they're moving quite a bit."
Potter had five birdies, but suffered two bogeys and that double on the 207-yard No. 8. He pulled his tee shot onto the ninth tee and faced a blind shot over a huge mound. He overshot the green so far he landed in a bunker on the other side.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.