Mickelson identifies way back after finding form on closing stretch

 

Augusta

Phil Mickelson has always been inspired by the Masters and the three-times champion relied on his expert knowledge of Augusta National to salvage an erratic first 10 holes in Thursday's opening round. The American left-hander had been four over for the day after a wayward drive at the par-four 10th led to a triple-bogey but he recorded three birdies and a lone bogey over the closing stretch to card a two-over-par 74.

Mickelson has finished in the top 10 11 times in his last 13 starts at Augusta and he was confident he could work his way into contention for a fourth green jacket over the weekend.

"With a hot round tomorrow, I'll get right back in it for the weekend," the 41-year-old American said, after signing off with a birdie at the tricky par-four last. "I know that heading in I've been playing well. So I'm going to fire at it tomorrow and see if I can do that. That birdie on 18 was a big momentum birdie for me because if I can get out here and birdie one, two or three, I'm right back at even par. Then I start trying to catch the leaders."

Mickelson, who upstaged his playing partner, Tiger Woods, as he charged to a two-shot victory at last month's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, was frustrated by some of his course management over the front nine.

"I hit three or four shots in spots where I know I can't miss it and strategically I made some mistakes," he said. "I made some execution mistakes and then I made a very poor swing on 10. I knew walking off 10 green at four over I wasn't going to get them all back before the round was through. But if I could just get a couple back, I felt like I could get some back on the falling day. I got two of them back coming in, so as poorly as I played and some of the poor shots I hit and the mishaps, missing in the wrong spot, I'm right there."

Rain-softened conditions at Augusta made the notoriously difficult greens more receptive but tough pin positions and the likelihood of balls picking up mud on the fairways gave the players a lot of trouble.

"We had mud on every shot and that was a huge factor," Mickelson said. "That made it challenging plus the wet conditions made some lies in the fairway extremely tight and difficult for me. So it wasn't as though it was a free for all. You still had to be careful a lot of shots."

Sweden's Peter Hanson fed off the crowd's energy as they cheered on his playing partner, Mickelson, to post a 68 in the first round. Hanson finished the round tied for second place with the South African Louis Oosthuizen, a shot behind the leader, Lee Westwood.

"I kind of walked pretty close to Phil through all of these tight, roped areas, in between greens and tees. Kind of just enjoying it," Hanson said. "The crowd, they love Phil, and I can pretty much understand why, being such a fantastic player and having won here three times. So it was kind of nice to get a little bit of that. Even if it was not meant for me, I was kind of taking it on a bit and I enjoyed it."

A four-times winner on the European Tour, Hanson has never won in the United States. He is focused on staying in contention at Augusta.

"I think my biggest challenge for the next three days is going to stay in the same mental presence I did today, keep playing aggressive," he said.

"It's kind of a scary golf course in one way, because you don't have to put your foot too much wrong to end up making bogeys or doubles. I will just try to be aggressive and go out there and enjoy the moment on Friday, as well, playing with Phil again, and so I'm looking forward to that."

The Swede is enjoying a good run of form in the United States. He reached the quarter-final stage of the Accenture Match Play Championship and was joint fourth at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. His best result in a major came at last year's US Open at Congressional where he placed seventh.

"I love the US Open," said Hanson. "I think that was the kind of golf course that sets up the best for my kind of game."

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