Commentary

Wayward driver hurts Phil Mickelson

Updated: April 8, 2011, 12:03 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson arrived at Augusta National on Thursday morning, nearly four hours before his tee time, like a kid at Christmas.

"He couldn't wait to tee off," said his instructor, Butch Harmon.

But when his first round of the 2011 Masters ended in the twilight, Lefty was not quite ready to leave the grounds -- although he might have been excused had he wanted to get out as quickly as possible.

Although Mickelson shot a respectable 2-under-par 70 to trail co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros by 5 shots, he was headed to the driving range before darkness set in.

Finishing last in the field in driving accuracy obviously was on his mind.

"I scrambled well today to stay in, but I also let four or five good birdie opportunities slide," he said. "I'm going to have to capitalize on those opportunities [Friday] if I'm going to go low."

Mickelson came into the 75th Masters with a lot of hype. He won the Shell Houston Open on Sunday for his 39th career PGA Tour win after making 18 birdies on the weekend.

After a lackluster three months to start the season in which he contended just once, Mickelson, 40, appeared to be back on track.

He spoke earlier in the week of how excited he is to play the Masters, and he talked of playing with two drivers -- one a 46-inch version that carries 15 to 20 yards longer.

But after experimenting with three drivers on the range before the round, Mickelson settled on the 45-inch version he used last week.

"I thought I was going to need 3-iron on Hole 4 [a par-3] and possibly 15 [a par-5] because the wind was in," he said. "I also was driving it really well last week and didn't want to overthink it or mess with it. So I ended up on the range this morning and just decided to go with that."

Fair enough, but it didn't matter.

Mickelson hit just four fairways and found himself in some interesting positions -- such as well to the right of the 10th fairway or well into the azaleas to the left of the 13th fairway.

Lefty made par in both cases and made just one bogey all day -- but it came at the last hole and came after another missed fairway.

"It's OK, just OK," Mickelson said of the 70 that put him in a tie for 14th. "I didn't shoot myself out of it, but I didn't make up ground on the field the way I wanted to, so I've got to go to it [Friday]."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com