Phil Mickelson is up-and-down on first two days of 2011 U.S. Open

In another tournament, Phil Mickelson might have managed to battle his swing for two difficult days, and still survived. He backed up a tilt-a-whirl round Thursday with a decent 69 Friday, and his 1-over total of 143, at most U.S. Opens, would put him well within reach with half the event to go.

Yet Mickelson left the grounds at Congressional Country Club not only out of full-throated shouting distance of the lead — set by his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, at a record 11 under – but disappointed in his swing and his play, and a bit confused.

“Even though I was able to shoot under par today,” Mickelson said, “I was still struggling with it.”

He began the day trying to work out those struggles — on the range, before 7 a.m., with his coach, Butch Harmon. Thursday, he opened his Open with a wind-blown tee shot on the 10th into the water, good for a double bogey that began a 75 in which there was little predicting where his ball would go.

Though he played better Friday — making five birdies and just one bogey through 17 holes — he closed out the round by hitting his drive so far left of the 18th fairway, he was on the opposite side of the cart path. Sitting at 1 under, he then tried to pull off what amounts to a typical Phil shot: a cut, through trees, that would trickle down to the green, which is surrounded by water on three sides.

“From an outsider looking in, I don’t know if I could have been under par for the tournament hitting it in some of the places that he did,” McIlroy said. “But he’s just got a phenomenal short game and a great attitude. He just forgets about some of the bad shots and just goes and almost relishes the challenge of getting it up and down.”

The last bad shot, he couldn’t quite forget. Mickelson managed to skirt the trees, and his ball bounded toward the green in much the matter he intended. But as it approached the left side, it caught a slope. From there, it went straight to the water, leading to a double bogey and what Mickelson called a “disappointing finish.”

Even so, Mickelson has enjoyed perhaps the most Washington week of any of the Open’s 156 players. Wednesday, he played 18 holes at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase with Larry Summers, the former director of the White House National Economic Council in the Obama administration. That afternoon, he and fellow players Bubba Watson and Davis Love III went to the White House to meet the President. Mickelson presented Obama with three Callaway wedges with “Prez” stamped on the back. Watson presented him a driver — his signature pink-shafted version — and Love offered a putter with an American head cover and a golf bag.

Fun stuff. More fun than, say, trying to figure out how to right all his wrongs on the golf course.

“Rather than go work on it,” Mickelson said, “I think I’m going to try to figure out what it is I need to work on first, and then get back to the range.”

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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