Phil Mickelson’s off key in tune-up for Merion at FedEx St. Jude Classic

Andy Lyons

Phil Mickelson puts together a bunch of birdies, but three bogeys and a double leave him back in the pack as he tries to kick off the rust ahead of the U.S. Open.

Phil Mickelson blamed the batons he usually wields like a maestro for a disappointing 1-over 71 start to his final competitive golf before next week’s U.S. Open.

"My short game was not good today," Mickelson told PGA’s Brian Wacker after an up-and-down first round on Thursday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. "I made a mistake in some of my shot selection trying to hit some of the shots.”

After skipping the Valero Texas Open the week before the Masters and finishing in a share of 54th at Augusta, Mickelson has stressed how critical he believes it is for him to whip his game into shape with pressure-packed golf just prior to a major.

''I know that for me to be sharp mentally, especially into a tournament where the penalty for missing is so great like the U.S. Open, it's important that I'm sharp and I'm ready to play,'' Mickelson told reporters Wednesday at TPC Southwind.

With only six competitive rounds since Augusta -- a third-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship in early May and a missed cut the next week at The Players Championship -- Mickelson anticipated getting back in the swing before taking on Merion Golf Club. Despite making a hash of his outgoing nine on Thursday -- to the tune of a 3-over 38 -- Lefty ended the day tied with John Daly and two dozen others only five shots back of six 18-hole co-leaders.

Things started out well for the four-time major champ when, beginning on the back nine, he posted a birdie on the par-4 10th. All heck broke loose in a hurry, however, as Mickelson missed his approach shot to the 15th wide left into a green-side bunker and then left himself about a 28-foot putt for par, which he missed.

The double-bogey on 16 really hurt. His second shot found sand fronting the green, he flew the green with his next shot, landed back in a bunker with his fourth, and needed three more strokes to get home.

Despite finishing with a bogey on his last, the par-4 ninth, Mickelson’s game picked up after he made the turn with three consecutive birdies. But for his short sticks, Mickelson was pleased with the effort.

"I really feel like I'm striking the ball well. The score obviously isn't very good,” he told Wacker. “This is the first competitive round in a little while and I'm looking forward to [Friday’s] round because I know that ball striking-wise, it's about as good as I've been striking it and I feel like there's a good round in me."

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