Phil Mickelson gave a thumbs up to a spectator during the first round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s East Course.

Clem Murray • Philadelphia Inquirer,

Seventeen-and-a-half hours elapsed between the start of Phil Mickelson’s coast-to-coast commute and the end of his round.

Doug Mills • The New York Times,

It's all a blur: Mickelson opens with a 67 at Merion

  • Article by: KAREN CROUSE New York Times
  • June 13, 2013 - 11:49 PM

– The first time that Phil Mickelson finished second at the U.S. Open was in 1999, when he lost to Payne Stewart by one stroke, a defeat made easier to swallow by the fact that he was about to become a father. The following day, Mickelson’s wife, Amy, gave birth to a daughter.

That child, Amanda, graduated from eighth grade Wednesday, a stark reminder to Mickelson, 42, of time’s passage. The future that stretched before him 13 years ago has disappeared into thin air, much like the three hours he lost overnight by flying here from San Diego after attending his daughter’s school ceremony.

Mickelson left the San Diego area in his private jet after hearing his daughter, one of four speakers, deliver a commencement address. He landed in Philadelphia at roughly 3:30 a.m. Thursday. He slept for two hours on the plane, he said, and squeezed in another hour’s sleep before heading to the course at 5:30. Ninety minutes later, Mickelson made his 23rd start in the Open.

Five times a U.S. Open runner-up and never a winner, Mickelson overcame a three-putt bogey on his first hole to card a 3-under-par 67 on Merion Golf Club’s East Course. In his 22 previous U.S. Open starts, he had opened with a score lower than 68 only once, at Pinehurst in 1999.

Asked to assess his start, Mickelson grinned and said, “Pretty good.”

Seventeen-and-a-half hours elapsed between the start of his coast-to-coast commute and the end of his round.

“It’s been a long day,” he said.

Playing alongside Keegan Bradley and Steve Stricker, Mickelson completed five holes before an electrical storm moved through the area, causing a suspension of play that lasted 3 hours 31 minutes. There was a second, hourlong weather suspension in the early evening, when Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, the top three players in the world, who were grouped together, were on the fifth green.

Woods, a 14-time major champion, bogeyed three of the first five holes and was seen grimacing and shaking his left hand after hitting shots out of the rough on the first, fourth and 11th holes. His group was on the 11th green when play was called because of darkness.

When play was suspended, Luke Donald, through 13 holes, was the leader at 4 under.

When the first wave of bad weather hit, Mickelson was at even par, having made a birdie at the par-3 13th, his third hole. During the delay, he managed to take a one-hour nap. After the round resumed, he made birdies at Nos. 1, 7 and 9. That propelled Mickelson up the leaderboard, but two par-saving putts, of 12 feet at the fifth hole and 8 feet at the sixth, provided more of a boost.

“I think in the U.S. Open par saves are as big or bigger than birdies because you don’t really expect birdies,” Mickelson said. “Those are the momentum builders that are important.”

Mickelson’s momentum ground to a halt when his group had to wait at the tee on No. 1 for the three players directly ahead of them to hit their drives and second shots. During the 15-minute delay, Mickelson finished a caffeinated energy drink in one gulp and chased it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

On the clubhouse veranda a few yards from the tee box, Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, which conducts the tournament, was having lunch. Mickelson wandered over and engaged him in a short conversation.

“I think it’s the best U.S. Open setup I’ve ever seen,” Mickelson said later, “and that’s what I was telling him.”

Mickelson began the week in Memphis, where he closed with a 67 to finish in a tie for second at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. From there he flew to Philadelphia. Upon finding out that thunderstorms were headed for the area, Mickelson left Monday for San Diego. There he was able to practice in pristine conditions in the days leading up to his daughter’s ceremony and her speech, in which she quoted Ron Burgundy, the character played by Will Ferrell in the movie “Anchorman.”

“It might be abnormal,” he said, referring to his itinerary, “but it actually worked out really well.”

He traveled the extra 5,468 miles, or thereabouts, even though his daughter, whose impending birth in 1999 prompted Mickelson to carry a beeper in his pocket at Pinehurst in case his wife went into labor, told him to stay in Philadelphia.

“She told me, ‘It’s fine; it’s the U.S. Open, and I know how much you care about it,’ ” Mickelson said. “I told her, ‘I want to be there.’ ”

Mickelson, a four-time major champion, said he spent part of Wednesday night’s flight studying the notes he compiled on Merion while playing the course during a visit two weeks ago.“I think mental preparation is every bit as important as physical,” he said, “and I think I was able to take the time on the plane to go through how I was going to play each hole, where I want to miss it, where I want to be, study the green charts.”

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