SAN DIEGO — Phil Mickelson, fresh off his PGA Championship victory, one day removed from his 51st birthday and after two weeks of preparation to win his first U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam, struggled in Thursday’s first round, shooting a 4-over-par 75.
Ironically, Mickelson is not only playing in his hometown but he’s a fan favorite everywhere he plays — yet the behavior of several spectators had an ill effect on his round.
At the par-5 13th hole, Mickelson’s fourth hole of the day, he became distracted by spectators’ cellphones beeping while he was trying to hit his second shot. Mickelson backed off his shot three times before slicing his 2-wood into some bushes short and left of the green and taking bogey.
Mickelson was visibly and audibly agitated by the incident, though later didn’t use it as an excuse.
“It’s part of professional golf,’’ he said. “You have to learn to deal with it. I don’t understand why you just can’t turn that little button on the side into silent. I probably didn’t deal with it internally as well as I could have or as well as I need to. Certainly, I didn’t do the best job of dealing with it.’’
Mickelson was 2-over par and in decent shape when he carded bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7 to fall back to 4-over.
“I wasn’t really getting anything going, and I fought really hard, and then to let two bogeys slide on 6 and 7 when I really shouldn’t have, like they weren’t that hard of pars — you probably saw the disappointment there. Two-over would have been a pretty good round and I ended up at 4, so I’m a little disappointed about that. I feel like I’m close to putting together a good round.’’
A cool story emerging from the first round was the work of the Molinari brothers — Francesco and Edoardo.
Francesco, the 2018 British Open winner, shot a 3-under-par 68 to stand one shot out of the lead while Edoardo shot a 1-under 70. Before this week, the Italian brothers hadn’t seen each other since December of 2019 because of COVID-19.
Francesco is a major winner, former top-5 player and one of the heroes of the last Ryder Cup.
Edoardo, who is 21 months older than Francesco, also played in a Ryder Cup and has three European Tour wins. But his form has fallen off as he dropped out of the top 600 in the world rankings. He’s actually started up a statistics business, helping players with data. A recent tie for eighth and a tie for second at the European Open earned him a spot in the U.S. Open through the European Tour’s three-event qualifying series.
This is his first start in a major since the 2015 Open Championship.
“It’s nice, obviously, to see him,’’ Francesco said. “I wasn’t expecting the U.S. Open to be the occasion, but it was great to see him play well and qualify and nice to spend some time with him. We text and we talk pretty often, but obviously it’s not the same, especially after such a long time. It’s definitely the first time that we’ve been apart for so long.’’
Edoardo, who lives in Italy while Francesco lives in L.A., said the time apart “has been very difficult.’’
When Francesco was asked if he could recall the last time he and his brother were inside the top 10 in a major, he joked, “I don’t know. He’s the statistician. You need to ask him.”
Patrick Rodgers looked like he might spring to the first-round lead by day’s end as he got to 4-under par through his first 13 holes. But three bogeys in a four-hole span from No. 14 through 17 dropped him to 1-under for the tournament.
“I really took advantage of those first 13 holes,’’ he said. “It’s kind of a dream start in a U.S. Open. It wasn’t the finish that I had in mind standing on the 14th tee, but it’s part of playing out here. I’m super-confident in my game, and so I’m excited to keep going forward. If I bring the kind of game that I brought today the next three days, I should have a great chance.’’