Phil Mickelson did not play his way out of the 2014 Masters on Thursday, but a steady round was thrown off by a pair of ugly 7s on each side at Augusta National. Mickelson made a mess at the 7th hole, chipping through the green and then blowing putts back-and-forth past the hole for a triple bogey. And just when it looked like he had recovered from that early blow, Phil put one in the water at the 15th for an inexcusable double bogey at Augusta's easiest hole (by scoring average).
At this point in his career, Phil knows exactly how to play almost every shot you'll see at the Masters. But that doesn't make executing on the slick greens any easier, and No. 7 was a disaster for a player known as maybe the best short game golfer in history. It was a delicate chip from the back, to be sure, but Phil knocked it straight through the green:
That bad chip aside, Mickelson was just getting started on making a mess of this hole. The putter has been a much more spotty club for Phil than the wedges, and he proceeded to blow it by the hole twice before finally getting it in the bottom of the cup.
Following that 7, Mickelson would oddly take an iron off the tee on the par-5 8th hole and there was instant speculation that either his back or oblique muscle strain, both issues that have forced WDs this year, were acting up.
But despite some ginger movements and that weird choice of iron off the tee on a par-5, Phil never really showed signs of an injury bother the rest of the way into the house. He'd start to chip away and get back toward even-par, most notably with a ridiculous putt on the always difficult 10th green. Given the break, and the downhill slope, this was the putt of the day and might be the putt of the week for Phil:
That birdie and a 1-under trip through Amen Corner had him back in position at 1-over, with birdie chances still ahead of him. But Phil's march back to even quickly came undone, carding a bogey at the 14th, the most undulating green on the course, and the awful double at the 15th.
Phil had to lay up on the gettable par-5 15th, and with wedge in hand, he left his ball short of the middle pin and it spun back down through the bank and into the pond. This being the scene of Tiger's controversial drop last year, a rules official appeared out of nowhere within seconds and Phil proceeded to take his drop without incident (we think). But he could not get up-and-down from there, a two-putt double pushing him all the back to 4-over.
Three straight pars would close out the round of 76, but the damage done primarily at Nos. 7 and 15 puts him eight shots back of leader Bill Haas. The conditions were very difficult, and players repeatedly said this was the hardest they could remember an Augusta setup for a Thursday first round. So Phil wasn't the only one struggling to post a number.
Mickelson has not played well this year, but you still expect to see more from him at a place he loves and knows so well. He may be trying a little to hard to pull even with Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods at four green jackets. Fortunately for him, he's not totally out of it and will have good conditions Friday morning to make a run back up the board.