In return from British Open win, Phil Mickelson has trouble regaining his focus at Bridgestone

  • Article by: RUSTY MILLER , AP Sports Writer
  • Updated: August 1, 2013 - 5:15 PM

AKRON, Ohio — He was in the Buckeye state, but his head was still in Scotland.

Phil Mickelson, yet to escape a British Open hangover, shot a 2-over 72 and was stuck in the middle of the pack Thursday after the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational.

"Today I had a hard time focusing," said Mickelson, who missed 3-foot par putts on the sixth and seventh holes. "Mentally I wasn't sharp. I could tell I was a little bit tired or I just wasn't able to see the shot clearly. I just had a hard time visualizing and seeing the shot today."

No one could really blame Mickelson for hanging on to thoughts of his last tournament. He climbed from well off the pace Sunday, birdieing four of the final six holes for a stirring victory in the British Open at Muirfield two weeks ago.

Mickelson spent time at home with his family after flying overseas after the stunning triumph, his fifth major championship, and also went to Oak Hill to prepare for next week's final major of the year, the PGA Championship. He came to Firestone Country Club saying he wanted to use his time in Ohio to concentrate on his game.

Even though he felt he was focused on the task at hand, he understood how he could be distracted after such a remarkable win.

Asked if he had found it difficult to deal with the next tournament after winning a major, he said he'd been down this road before.

"I am aware of it. I'll try to make sure I'm a bit more rested and sharp heading into the weekend," he said. "But it does happen. It's a good problem to have."

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WEATHER REPORT: It rained overnight, deadening the greens just enough so that the first players off the tee could take advantage by tossing shots directly at the flags.

"It's soft," Ryan Moore said after a 66. "The greens are receptive, so you can hit 5-irons and 4-irons into the greens and stop them around the hole. It (the course) was longer, but still scoreable."

Some of those who had practiced all week on a relatively dry and fast layout said the rain didn't make things easier, but harder.

"I played quite a nice shot and it lands quite dead," said English pro Chris Wood, making his first appearance ever at the Bridgestone. "It didn't release as far as I thought and it took quite a few holes to get used to that."

Moore played in the third group off the tee. Tiger Woods, who was in the fifth twosome starting on the 10th hole, said the conditions would get more difficult as the wind blew and the moisture disappeared.

"It'll get quicker, there's no doubt," he said.

And it did.

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OH, NO, NOT AGAIN: Tiger Woods has said repeatedly how happy he is with his swing. Well, except for one, anyway.

At the ninth hole, his last of the day in a round of 66, he didn't exactly produce a classic stroke.

"It was a high, hammered snap-hook," he said with a smile. "I hit all of it. It was nice. It was beautiful."

The ball ended up in the middle of the fairway — the 10th fairway.

"Hey, I count it as a fairway hit," Woods cracked.

In the second round of the 2006 Bridgestone, Woods had famously hit an overcooked 9-iron that caromed high off a cart path and ricocheted atop the clubhouse roof at Firestone Country Club. He would go on to win the fifth of his seven Bridgestone titles.

Woods was asked if his shot on Thursday was ever in jeopardy of ending up on the roof.

"No," he said with a laugh. "If I hit that one from the middle of a fairway onto a roof, you could take my name off the bag."

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YOU CAN COME HOME AGAIN: Jason Dufner spent the first 11 years of his life living in and around Cleveland, not far away from where he's toiling this week.

He played Little League baseball, made lots of friends and even walked the Firestone course during his younger days. Then his parents divorced and he moved away.

After a long and circuitous trip through golf's minor leagues, Dufner has made it to the big stage. He played in the Bridgestone for the very first time a year ago, finishing seventh. In Thursday's opening round, he put up a 3-under 67 on the board.

"I have some family and relatives and friends here that come out and support (me)," he said. "There's probably 15 or 20 people here. I hear a lot of good support out there. People know I was born here and lived here for a while and still have some family here, so it's always good to come back to Northeast Ohio."

Despite not spending much time in the area for more than two decades, he still feels at home at Firestone. He opened with rounds of 67 and 66 for sole possession of fourth place a year ago at the Bridgestone before shooting 73 and 68 on the weekend.

"That was about the same type of round to start the week as last year," Dufner, now 36 and living in Auburn, Ala., said about his first round Thursday. "It's a good golf course for me. It feels all right with my game."

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MONSTROUS CHALLENGE: The signature hole at Firestone is the 667-yard, par-5 16th. In the days of wood woods when only the longest hitters could go 300 yards off the tee, it was a daunting task to even reach the green — with a placid but threatening pond in front — in three shots.

That's not the case anymore, although the hole Arnold Palmer dubbed "The Monster" — after he made a triple bogey in the 1960 PGA Championship is still a load for even the biggest hitters.

Now even those who can't play the hole can at least get a feel of what it's like to baby an approach shot to the undulating green.

Fans can hit two shots at a faux, 33-yard Monster, made out of green carpet with a mini-water hazard in front of the plastic-grass green. There's netting that prevents shanked shots from, say, decking Zach Johnson over on the 10th tee. It also eliminates the possibility of a skilled player lofting a high flop shot anywhere near the hole.

Dan Crowe, who manages the interactive site, said more than 900 people played the hole on Wednesday, with that number expected to rise each day through the weekend.

If one of your shots ends up on the green, you win a sleeve of golf balls. Hole a shot — like one lucky participant did — and you receive a $150 gift card toward either Bridgestone tires or golf equipment.

This much is certain: No one will be acing the real "Monster."

___

STARTLING STAT: Tiger Woods has won 41 percent of his World Golf Championship starts. He's 3 for 13 in the Match Play event, 7 of 13 in both the Bridgestone and the Cadillac Championship and is 0 for 2 in the HSBC. That's 17 of 41 heading into this week's Bridgestone at Firestone Country Club.

Oh, and he has finished in the top 10 in 32 of 41 of those WGC tournaments — although he's won only one of the last 11 in which he's played.

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