Putting at Pinehurst: Mickelson, Rory need work; Sneds, Keegan switch things up

Mike Ehrmann

Phil Mickelson knows he has to negotiate the domed putting surfaces at Pinehurst a lot better than he did on Thursday if he's to complete the Lefty Slam on Sunday.

Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and Adam Scott no doubt made beelines for the practice green after their rounds of 70, 71 and 73, respectively, in Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Open.

Brandt Snedeker, on the other hand, was mighty pleased with a critical change he made to the shortest part of his game ahead of this week’s tilt on the "turtleback" putting surfaces of Pinehurst, while Keegan Bradley’s mom may be disappointed with her boy’s decision to revert to anchoring his flat stick.

"I haven't been putting up to my standards the last six months," Snedeker -- who has among the softest hands on tour -- told reporters after an up-and-down opening-round score of 1-under 69 left him four shots back of 18-hole leader Martin Kaymer.

Snedeker was first on the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting two years ago and was fourth in 2013. A 56th ranking entering this week sparked a move to a new putter, which he made about a week ago.

"It's not a big change," Snedeker said of the Bridgestone True Balance putter. "A little different insert in it and just felt like it needed a different look. It worked great today. Made a lot of 15-, 20-footers, which I've been struggling with from that distance, 10-to 20-footers, and made a bunch of them today."

Mickelson had a different experience.

"I played well today," Mickelson, who believed he could have gone way lower than even-par if he had negotiated the greens more deftly, told Golf Channel. "I didn’t make any ... of the 15-, 20-footers that I had really good opportunities [to make] but ... I didn’t capitalize on some opportunities."

The five-time major champion who’s on a quest to win his first U.S. Open, said he would have to improve upon 31 putts, including one three-putt, if he hoped to become just the sixth golfer to compile a career grand slam. Mickelson’s return to the claw grip that he put back in his repertoire last Sunday in Memphis worked well on short strokes, which was a good complement to a long game that was clicking.

"The driver feels really good. I think that's the club that is going to help me play well this week. And the one club that's hurting me is the putter," said Mickelson. "So I've got to get that turned around the next couple of days."

Echoing Mickelson was the oddsmakers’ favorite to hoist the hardware on Sunday, Rory McIlroy.

"I struggled with my speed on the greens. That was the only thing that really let me down today," said McIlroy, who putted 33 times and looked to improve the pace of his ball on the greens. "If I can get the speed dialed in a little bit more, hopefully I’ll be right there over the weekend."

Then there were two of the four former majors winners who tether putters to their bodies. Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, could get nothing going on the greens, carding four bogeys and one birdie.

"I putted okay and really close, but I didn't make the ones that you'd like to," said Scott, who blamed "sloppy" chipping more than errant putting with his broomstick for his score. "I'm happy with how I hit it generally tee-to-green. If I can do that the next three days, and sharpen up a little bit on the greens and around, I'll be in great shape by the end of the week."

Bradley, for his part, went back to fastening his bat to his belly after finishing T37 at the Memorial two weeks ago with a shorter, unanchored model.

"I just felt like from off the green I was a little more comfortable with it," said Bradley, whose mother urged him to ditch the bigger stick after he putted poorly at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

"You can have so many putts from off the green around here," Bradley added. "There was no other reason other than that, from those kind of putt-chips that you have. I was more comfortable with it."

At least one observer was unimpressed with Bradley’s putting preference for Pinehurst.

"It’s not gonna be easy for [Bradley] to give up that little nooney blanket belly thing," sniffed NBC analyst Johnny Miller after the 2011 PGA champion fired his first sub-par nine holes (2-under 33) in a U.S. Open.

He’ll have to do just that, but not until 2016, when anchoring will be prohibited. Until then, will Bradley stick with the old faithful, 46-inch Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth, at least for the rest of the week?

Said Bradley, "Yeah."

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