AUGUSTA — Back and forth the ball went, passing the cup four times in all, simply refusing to go down.
When Phil Mickelson finally finished with the seventh hole, he had a triple-bogey on his scorecard.
That summed up Lefty’s wild ride on the opening day of The Masters.
Seeking to become only the fourth player to win as many as four green jackets, Lefty put himself in quite a hole with all sorts of erratic shots Thursday at Augusta National.
He took another 7, this one a double-bogey, after dumping it in the water at No. 15. And this being Mickelson, one of the most exciting if infuriating players in the game, there was an curling 40-foot birdie putt at the 10th that prompted him to shout, “Are you kidding me!”
But the bad shots far outweighed the good, and Mickelson trudged to the finish with a 4-over 76 – one of the worst scores of his Masters career.
The start didn’t put him in great position to join Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods with four Masters titles. Jack Nicklaus, with six green jackets, is the only player to win more.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow just to make the cut,” Mickelson said. “I’ve got some issues.”
He started the round with six straight pars. Then it all fell apart at No. 7, a par-4 hole known as “Pampas” that played tough all day.
It was brutal for Mickelson.
He struck a decent tee shot, the ball stopping in the second cut, just off the left side of the fairway. His second shot rolled through the green, winding up in the tall grass, short of a bunker. Mickelson is usually a wizard with his wedges, but he chipped it a little too hard, the ball catching a ridge just beyond the cup and rolling all the way off the green.
Mickelson chipped it past the high side of the cup, right where he didn’t want to be, then missed a 10-foot putt coming back, followed by a 6-footer heading back in the direction he just came from. Finally, he knocked it in on his seventh swing for his worst score ever on that hole. He had played it 86 other times, with nothing higher than a bogey.
Mickelson made that improbable putt on the 10th and another birdie at the par-5 13th, rallying back to 1 over on the day. But he gave back a stroke with a bogey on 14, then made a mess of the par-5 15th after laying up with his second shot. After his pitch rolled back into the water, he took a penalty stroke and a do-over before two-putting for another 7.
“I hit all those chips solid and flush, but I misjudged them,” Mickelson said. “I was just off. I was really off today.”
He has broken par only once in his last six rounds at Augusta National, but Mickelson is not ready to give up on this Masters despite a daunting eight-stroke deficit after Day 1.
“I don’t feel like my game is off. I really don’t,” he said. “I feel very confident with the way I’m hitting it and striking it, but my scoring is just – I’m making way too many mistakes like that.”