Late start leaves Mickelson playing catch-up

Phil Mickelson doesn’t have much to show for his day at the British Open.

Phil Mickelson finished the first round of the British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews

Phil Mickelson finished the first round of the British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Phil Mickelson doesn’t have much to show for his day at the British Open.

A long string of pars. One double bogey. A few more pars.

And, finally, on the very last hole, his only birdie.

Mickelson’s 1-over 73 on Thursday put him 10 shots behind leader Rory McIlroy. Worse, there’s an entire Tour’s worth of folks between him and the Northern Irishman. Mickelson was clearly miffed with his day, looking pained pretty much any time the cameras caught up with him and blowing off interview requests after the round.

He would take over the No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career with a win at St. Andrews.

Mickelson said this week he feels a “spiritual” connection with St. Andrews, regarded as the birthplace of golf. With its wide-open spaces that practically beg for driver on every hole, the Old Course is perfectly suited for his game and might very well give him his best chance to win his first British Open.

“I expect to play well here, I really do,” he said on Tuesday. “I expect to be in contention.”

Making the cut is the priority now.

He made pars on his first 12 holes before taking a double-bogey on the par-4 13th. Then it was four more pars before he rolled in an 8-footer on 18 for that lone birdie. Mickelson looked more relieved when the day was over than anything else and, after shaking hands with his playing partners and signing his scorecard, made a quick exit.

Granted, he did get the rough end of the draw at this major, where weather can make or break your chances. Tame conditions in the morning that allowed McIlroy to tie a major championship record with a 9-under 63 disappeared by the time Mickelson teed off. They were replaced by swirling winds and occasional downpours that sent players scurrying for rain gear on one hole and stripping it off the next.

Still, there were low scores to be had — but not for him. Playing partner Retief Goosen shot 3 under. Lee Westwood, ranked one spot behind Mickelson at No. 3 in the world and playing three groups ahead of him, shot a 67.

Then again, rough first rounds at the British Open are nothing new for Mickelson. Of the last seven Opens he’s played, he’s broken par just once.

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