Even-par 70 puts Lefty on the fringe
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - It was hard to tell if the question about Phil Mickelson was in jest, or was serious. In this instance, it really didn't matter.
From across the 11th fairway at The Old White TPC, where Mickelson's ball was nowhere to be found: "Is he going to the bathroom?"
He wasn't, but he might as well have - a complex of portable facilities stood not far from Mickelson's ball, which was amid the trees in a patch of native tall grass.
It was a typical "Lefty" moment in his debut at The Greenbrier Classic. On this particular shot on his second hole of the day (his group began at No. 10), he hacked out to about 30 yards short of the green. He nearly holed the pitch shot, and then saved par from 2 feet.
That delighted a following that grew rapidly from the 100 that watched him tee off with Stuart Appleby and Tom Watson at 7:40 a.m. There were more delightful moments to come, especially from Mickelson's five birdies.
But Mickelson also had five bogeys, two on the final three holes, dragging him to an even-par 70. That puts him near the cut line entering today's play, but he is ahead of Appleby, the defending champion, and Watson, the legend and pro emeritus of The Greenbrier resort.
Appleby fired a 1-over 71, three shots higher than his worst round at the 2010 Classic and a full 12 shots higher than that closing 59. And he only shot that well with a heavy dose of scrambling and an eagle chip-in from 50 feet on the par-5 12th.
"Very different golf course," he said. "My score was very different. Of course a lot more difficult, a lot longer."
Watson suffered the toughest day, making four bogeys in the final six holes to finish at 75.
He began consistently enough with eight pars in a row, but three-putted from under 15 feet on the par-3 18th hole. He saved a par out of the sand at No. 2, but bogeyed after three subsequent trips to the beach. His putting really went south - his longest made putt was a 7-footer on No. 11, and he didn't make one from more than 31/2 feet in the final 15 holes.
"Didn't make a birdie today, and that's the first time for that to happen in a long time," Watson said. "Doesn't sit well with me. Make a few more birdies tomorrow."
Mickelson made those birdies, and they were often spectacular. He started the day by draining a 30-foot birdie putt on the 10th, and then saved that par from the woods on No. 11.
He missed an 8-footer for birdie on the 12th, one of several close calls on the green. He bogeyed the 15th from a greenside bunker, but buried an 11-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th.
He belted his drive on No. 1 321 yards and hit the approach to 51/2 feet for a birdie. At 2 under, he looked ready for a charge to the leader board. Instead, he kept negating his birdies with bogeys.
On No. 2, he found another patch of tall grass near the 11th tee boxes, and ended with a bogey. He hit an 18-footer for birdie on the fourth, but three-putted the fifth for a bogey - a hole that was one of the best birdie opportunities on the course.
He hit a 28-foot birdie putt on the sixth, then hit a tree branch on his second shot on the seventh. The resulting bogey put him back at 1 under, and he gave that shot up on the ninth, courtesy of a rough-shortened approach.
"It was a disappointing overall score for me, because I played well enough to score low," Mickelson said. "I missed six putts inside 6 feet, and I just can't do that. I ended up making some longer ones, which was good, to offset it.
"But I've got to get this turned around for [today's second round]."
So does Appleby, who was seemingly all over the map before and after hitting his tee shot on the 18th within 3 feet. That was his only birdie to go with the eagle on the 12th.
He hit just 11 greens in regulation and eight of 14 fairways off the tee, setting himself up for Mickelson-type scrambling. He bogeyed his first two holes, then overshot his approach on No. 2 and hit the fairway sand on No. 6 for two more bogeys.
"Just couldn't seem to get the fire started," Appleby said. "Had some opportunities, but the course is tougher. You just have to get on the right - you know, I just didn't have enough opportunities in that sort of inside 15-foot range. Just got off to a dodgy start."
While the defending champ has been disgusted with his game, he was well pleased with the large gallery and thrilled to play with Mickelson and Watson.
"Crowds were great. Very, very quiet," Appleby said. "Actually, that's nice. I like quiet crowds. Good numbers out early, absolutely. And playing with two legends - both still growing their legendary status - fantastic.
"I was definitely the third wheel out there."
Reach Doug Smock 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.