KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Phil Mickelson was one of the stars of the show in Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
Mickelson, as usual, entertained with his patented high-wire act on a treacherous golf course that often requires that. He finished with a 2-under 70 to stand three shots behind leader Corey Conners.
But it was the way Mickelson got to 70 that was most compelling, hitting only six fairways and delivering some outlandish up-and-down saves with his world-class short game.
Mickelson was 3-over through the first six holes and played the rest of his round in 5-under. Most amazing was the fact that he shot 38 on the front nine, which was the easier of the nines. The back nine, with the final five holes playing into the wind, had been wreaking havoc on most of the field.
Mickelson shot 32 on the back nine, by far the best score on that nine.
He made birdie out of a fairway bunker on No. 16 and a greenside bunker on 17. He finished the day with an exquisite bump-and-run pitch from off the 18th green for a tap-in par save.
After the round, he declined a request by the PGA to do interviews and went straight to the driving range, where he and his swing coach, Andrew Getson, were the only people on the range. Mickelson, not surprisingly, was working on his driver.
It was a difficult day for the Met-Area local club pros. Century’s Frank Bensel Jr. shot 86, Peter Ballo Jr. from Silvermine shot 80, Danny Balin from Fresh Meadow shot 79, GlenArbor’s Rob Labritz shot 76 and Alex Beach from Westchester Country Club shot 75.
Collin Morikawa, the defending champion, had one of those what-could-have-been rounds. Morikawa shot a 2-under 70 and is three shots out of the lead, but he missed three putts from inside 5 feet on his back nine.
“I thought I putted great,’’ he said curiously. “I missed one on [No.] 7, one on 6, missed one on 9. But I actually didn’t hit bad putts. If I was hitting bad putts on those, then we’ve got an issue. My speed was good for the most part. That’s just things I’ve been working on. It’s good to see something translate into a tournament round and hopefully just continue that the next three days.’’
Morikawa as paired with Bryson DeChambeau and was highly complimentary of the experience.
“I love it,’’ he said. “I think I out-drove him on 9 today, and I made bogey. So maybe I need to dial it back. I think people need to give him credit that he’s actually picking up the pace. It was amazing how fast he actually played. I’m not going to say fast, but he wasn’t slow. You weren’t just waiting on him to figure out whatever.
“Kudos to him because it was windy and he had to figure out some stuff, for sure. But I enjoy it. He’s a character. He’s his own person. That’s what makes Bryson Bryson. I think that’s why people love him. It’s not going to faze me that he hits it a hundred [yards] past me. I know I can still hit it and play golf.’’