Ardmore, Pa. -- Only Phil Mickelson can do what he does. Only Phil Mickelson would even dare to try it.
Phil finished second in the St. Jude Classic in Memphis on Sunday, flew to Philadelphia on Monday then took a flight back home to California later that day to attend his daughter's eighth grade graduation.
This is the U.S. Open; not some corporate-sponsored Pro-Am. Is he nuts?
Mickelson took a red eye back to Philly on Wednesday night, landing around 3:30 in the morning for a 7:11 a.m. tee time. Did the man even sleep?
"A couple hours on the plane," he told reporters after his round, "an hour before we teed off and then an hour during the break. I feel great."
He sure played like he feels great. He did admit to taking a "caffeine booster" at the turn to keep him sharp and acknowledged that on the ninth hole—his 17th of the day—he started to feel physically drained, but it surely didn't show on the course.
He truly couldn't have played much better, carding a 67, two shots clear of the field at the time he finished his round.
While the other 155 participants in this year's U.S. Open were slogging through the rain and mud all week to prepare for the perils of Merion, Mickelson was spending his time on a plane and with his family, and on a plane again.
Only Phil Mickelson could pull this off.
"I think that mental preparation is every bit as important as physical," he told reporters. "I was able to take the time on the plane to read my notes, study, relive the golf course, go through how I was going to play each hole, where the pins were, where I want to miss it, where I want to be, study the green charts."
"It gave me a great few hours to study my notes and get mentally prepared."
Before Mickelson teed off, I joked to a fellow writer covering the tournament that Lefty would either win the tournament or miss the cut after trying to pull off this trans-continental adventure. It's just that insane to try to fly back and forth across the country the week of the U.S. Open on a course a quirky and unfamiliar as Merion and expect to compete.
After his first round, Phil certainly looks to be in a better position to win the thing than miss the cut. Only Phil.
Hell, only Phil would show up to a course that's wet and soft and not carry a driver in his bag in favor of a 64-degree wedge. Phil, by the way, is carrying 125 wedges this week.
Only Phil would manage to slice a tee shot into a creek but, thanks to hitting from the left side, be able to not just get it out and advance it down the fairway, but get up and down for an all-world par on No. 5, a hole that's playing nearly an entire stroke over par through the first round.
Only Phil would consider a bogey on his first hole a blessing, not an omen of things to come.
"It wasn't the greatest start," Mickelson admitted. "But it's funny, Bones and I have a saying because I've had some of my best rounds of my career that have started with a bogey and we just kind of looked at each other and laughed and said, you know, great rounds have started with bogey and that happened to be the last one I made."
Mickelson can surely add the first-round 67 to the list of great rounds. The course that many thought would be primed to attack was playing as hard as any U.S. Open course in recent memory. Charl Schwartzel hit a drive on the 18th hole that just missed the fairway by maybe a foot, and he could do nothing more than punch it back down the fairway 100 yards or so.
Padraig Harrington hit his drive on 18 in nearly the same location as Schwartzel and moved his ball maybe 10 feet. Some of us in the gallery thought he had actually missed the ball entirely.
While the rough is extremely punitive, the greens are almost as difficult to handle.
The putt Mickelson made to birdie the first hole was similar to the attempt Bubba Watson had the group ahead. Watson three putted. This is every bit as much a U.S. Open setup as any to come before it, and Mickelson—who has finished second five times—thinks that might play to his advantage.
"It's actually a tournament that I play very well in. I'm able to perform and chip well out of the rough and love the challenge of the greens and also the fact that many players are not as prepared for a course we haven't seen gives me a slight advantage, I feel, to save a fraction of a shot here or there."
Only Mickelson would end his round with a tournament-leading 67 and tell reporters he feels he has an advantage because other players aren't as prepared as him when he got off a plane three hours before his round began.
Well, three and a half.
To be fair, Phil was at Merion last week to get work in on the course. Truth be told, he does meticulously prepare for major tournaments, which includes a practice round off-site the day before the tournament begins to work on his game. It just so happened his round off-site was 3,000 miles away.
"I like to play a course elsewhere Wednesday of a major, as most of you know. It gives me a chance to get a quiet environment, get away from the pressure and anxiety and all that builds up for a desire to win this tournament, whether it's U.S. Open or any major.
"I like to go off-site and just kind of have a relaxing day before Thursday's round. And it was helpful that I had an opportunity to practice in good weather conditions on a good practice facility, get my game sharp."
His game certainly looks sharp, attacking the pins he could while working his way out of trouble on the holes where his tee shot went askew. His up-and-down out of the thick rough on the Par-3 third hole was every bit as spectacular as his saves on five and six. It was every bit as important, too.
"I think in the U.S. Open," Mickelson said, "par saves are as big or bigger than birdies because you don't really expect birdies. You're trying to play par."
Mickelson played better than par on Thursday. He played this course as well as anyone could. There was talk of record-breaking scores early in the week, but Thursday's conditions were the best for scoring the players will see all week. At times, Mickelson's 67 felt like he was shooting 62.
Not only was Mickelson hitting shot after fantastic shot, he was smiling the entire time. He was flashing his trademark thumbs up and laughing with the thousands of fans making jokes about the red eye, his daughter's graduation and anything else they'd yell to try to get his attention.
With much of the buzz on Thursday focused on Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, Phil managed to steal the spotlight before the top three players in the world even had a chance to tee off.
Only Phil could do that, too. Well, Phil and the rain. But after shooting 67, let's credit him for that as well.
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