Mickelson struggles at Open

2010-06-17 23:07

Pebble Beach - Phil Mickelson's pursuit of the second leg of golf's Grand Slam got off to a stuttering start on Thursday as Pebble Beach held its own against the US Open field.

As Masters champion Mickelson failed to find a birdie in a four-over-par first round, former Masters champion Mike Weir, South Korean KJ Choi and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello seized the early clubhouse lead on one-under-par 70.

On the course, England's Ian Poulter and American Craig Barlow were also one-under.

Both Choi and Weir moved as low as three-under, Weir chipping in for birdie from the rough at 16 before giving back two shots in the last two holes on a course where bogeys had outnumbered birdies almost two-to-one as the afternoon starters -- including Tiger Woods -- were teeing off.

Choi said the par-71, 7,040-yard course was somewhat deceptive, with some of the invitingly widened fairways now rolling smoothly right over the cliffs.

"This course looks wide open," Choi said. "But very scary tee shots."

Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen, a three-time European tour winner, got off to a fast start with birdies at the third, fourth and sixth. He made the turn atop the leaderboard at three-under but finished on one-over 72.

Mickelson never had a chance to build any momentum. He started on the 10th and shot to three-over with bogeys at 16, 17 and 18.

At 17 Mickelson found the beach and took a drop on the way to a bogey. At 18 Mickelson's tee shot left him blocked by two trees.

He tried to play between them, but the shot drifted out and found the rocks, careening into the Pacific Ocean.

He added another bogey at the par-four fourth. Playing partners Padraig Harrington and Yang Yong-eun also had their difficulties, but both managed two late birdies to finish on two-over 73.

Woods, who stunned his rivals with a 15-stroke US Open triumph here in 2000, teed off at 1:36 pm local time along with South African Ernie Els and England's world number three Lee Westwood.

Ten minutes later, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa and ageless Tom Watson were to tee off on the 10th.

Although he is returning to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs, Woods is an unknown quantity after a season that started amid scandal.

He is playing just his fifth tournament of 2010, having missed the cut in one and failed to finish another because of a painful inflammation in his neck that he says has not quite healed.

While many players, including Mickelson, singled out the speed of the small greens as perhaps the biggest danger at Pebble Beach this week, Woods was wary of the firm, fast fairways.

"I'm probably only going to hit just a handful of drivers out here," he said. "The golf course is getting so fast. Some of the holes where you would think you would hit driver, three-wood is now starting to become the choice. These fairways are starting to get really quick."

Most players have predicted that a repeat of Woods' 12-under winning total of 2000 isn't in the cards.

"I just think the firmness of the greens are going to stop the scoring from being real low," said American Steve Stricker.