BROOKLINE, Mass. – All it took was about two cringeworthy minutes and four putts from 12 feet to bring the golf world back to this: No matter where he plays, or how much money he makes, Phil Mickelson can sometimes remind us — of us.
The player who built his brand as golf's everyman — only to risk it all with his move to a Saudi-backed startup that led to his suspension from the PGA Tour — looked like a weekend duffer in putting himself out of U.S. Open contention Thursday on the par-3 sixth.
He shot 8-over 78. He finished the day tied for 144th in the 156-player field. About the only consolation was that his interaction with the crowd was mostly positive: Thumbs-ups and some eye contact through the sunglasses from him and lots of “Go Phil,” and “Happy Birthday, Phil” from the stands. He turned 52 on Thursday.
The ultimate “Phil Being Phil” moment came on the sixth green.
Mickelson hit his tee shot on the 196-yard par-3 to 12 feet, then waited while Louis Oosthuizen almost chipped in from the rough and Shane Lowry, putting on almost Mickelson's exact line, just missed to the right.
Looking for his first birdie, Mickelson blew it 3 feet past. He stopped and stared. Asked his brother and caddie, Tim, to take a look at the comebacker. Blocked that one, too. And the next.
When he mercifully tapped in for his double-bogey 5, he was 5 over with the meat of the golf course still ahead. The quiet buzz spilling out of the grandstand and luxury suites grew louder as Happy Hour approached. Yes, that happened.
Earlier, Mickelson had missed par saves from 7 feet on No. 1 and 8 feet on No. 3. He needed 32 putts overall, which ranked him 120th. This marked the sixth straight time he's failed to break par in the opening round of the U.S. Open.
He did not stop to talk to reporters afterward.
As much as what his game looked like, the biggest mystery was how Mickelson would be received in first golf tournament in the United States since January. He took a hiatus after his comments about the Saudis, with whom he would later go into business, appeared to offend both sides of the debate — those on the PGA Tour he was leaving behind, and those with whom he would eventually sign a deal for a reported $200 million to play on the LIV Golf tour.
Though the PGA Tour suspended him, the USGA, which runs the U.S. Open, said anyone who qualified was welcome. Mickelson is only 13 months removed from a remarkable late-career surge — the PGA Championship he won last year at Kiawah Island at a record age of 50.
It gave him a five-year exemption into the tournament he has never won — the one he wants the worst.
But instead of worrying about winning, Mickelson will have to fashion a massive turnaround simply to stick it out for the weekend at The Country Club.
As far as the fans — overall, this was neither a celebration, nor a repudiation, of the man who has spent three decades as a favorite of the masses but whose recent maneuvers have sparked outrage across golf.
For the most part, Mickelson's galleries were small and quiet, maybe because there was no real show to watch.
There was no drama, a la Pinehurst, no meltdown, a la Winged Foot. No hitting the ball while it was still moving (Shinnecock) and it's virtually certain he will not be subjected to another agonizingly close call, the likes of which have undone him at the handful of U.S. Opens that he played well enough to win over the years.
Instead, if there was a victory on this day, it was that he made it through five-plus hours with mostly cheers from the notoriously tough Boston crowd.
“My fiancée loves you!” one fan shouted.
“You're beautiful, Phil!” said another.
Another one: “Live free, Phil!” in what could have been a reference to the LIV tour that's paying him all that money.
Mickelson laughed at that one, then got up and down with a chip from the 17th fringe. Too little, too late.
Earlier in the day, Mickelson didn't respond to a fan who shouted “Greed is good, Phil!" channeling Gordon Gekko, the soulless character from “Wall Street” played by Michael Douglas.
It was right out of a Boston fan's playbook. A nifty way of saying they loved him — but they know what he did, too.
That moment came and went.
Mickelson's “A” game? It never really arrived.
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