Mick­el­son in­Mem­phis­mix af­ter first round

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS -

Phil Mick­el­son got the strong fin­ish he wanted. Steve Stricker is hav­ing too much fun to just stick to the se­nior cir­cuit.

Mick­el­son and Stricker shot 4-un­der 66 on Thurs­day in the St. Jude Clas­sic in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, leav­ing them in an 11-player tie for sec­ond — a stroke be­hind Sea­mus Power of Ire­land. Mick­el­son matched his best open­ing round in re­la­tion to par this sea­son.

“Oh, it was a great start for me,” Mick­el­son said. “I ended up fin­ish­ing off the round. I had a nice lit­tle stretch there in the mid­dle where I went birdie, ea­gle, and I was able to fin­ish it off with some pars af­ter some poor tee shots.

“It’s a good start. It’s not like you’re try­ing to win the tour­na­ment on Thurs­day. But it’s nice not to put my­self too far be­hind so I’mplay­ing catch-up. So another good round will put me right in it for the week­end.”

Power birdied his fi­nal hole for the lead over Mick­el­son, Stricker, U. S. Open cham­pion Brooks Koepka and oth­ers. He went to No. 18 tied with seven oth­ers atop the leader board and took the lead him­self with his sec­ond birdie over his fi­nal three holes.

A cou­ple of Cal golfers had strong starts. Michael Kim is one of the players in the large group a shot back at 4 un­der, and Byeong An, who lost last week­end in a play­off at the Me­mo­rial, is two back.

The 51-year- old Stricker had a long day Mon­day qual­i­fy­ing nearby for the U. S. Open. He played only six holes Tues­day and a nine-hole pro-am Wed­nes­day to rest up. He turned in a bo­gey-free round Thurs­day and capped his day chip­ping in from 34 feet for his fourth birdie. He has two top-25 fin­ishes in seven tour­na­ments on the PGA Tour this sea­son, and Stricker said he wants to show he can fin­ish off an event.

Koepka is pre­par­ing for his U. S. Open ti­tle de­fense next week. Sec­ond-ranked Dustin John­son was at 67 with Retief Goosen, Scott Stallings and seven oth­ers.

Two- t ime de­fend­ing champ Daniel Berger bo­geyed three of his first five holes and fin­ished with five bo­geys and five birdies for a 70.

Mick­el­son won in March in Mex­ico for his 43rd ca­reer vic­tory, and he has tied for sec­ond at the TPC South­wind twice with a tie for third since 2013. He is look­ing for his first win here while tun­ing up his game for the U.S. Open. He matched the 4-un­der par 68 he opened with at the Hous­tonOpen in­April­with three birdies, an ea­gle and one bo­gey.

This tour­na­ment at TPC South­wind will be­come a World Golf Cham­pi­onship event in 2019, and Mick­el­son said this course is tough for any­one to shoot re­ally low. That makes lim­it­ing mis­takes cru­cial.

“If you don’t make any, you don’t lose too much ground and you can make it up quick,” Mick­el­son said. “It’s just a course that’s hard to go re­ally low on. There’s a lot more big num­bers on this course than you think. Wa­ter comes into play. There’s just some chal­lenges.”

John­son hit into the wa­ter for a dou­ble-bo­gey on No. 9. A win­ner here in 2012, John­son also had the shot of the day on the par- 4 No. 12. With his ball near the wa­ter, John­son took off his right shoe and rolled up his pant leg be­fore step­ping into the wa­ter. He chipped in from 40 feet.

“It wasn’t a very easy shot, and I ac­tu­ally didn’t hit it very well,” John­son said. “I just got lucky and it went in the hole.”

Koepka got to 5 un- der with a string of four straight birdies but his sec­ond bo­gey cost him a share of the lead.

“I didn’t play well at all to be hon­est with you,” Koepka said. “We hit some pretty poor shots. We were kind of all over the place, but hope to fig­ure this out for the rest of this week.”

Power played in col­lege across the state at East Ten­nessee State, and the 31-year- old Ir­ish­man came into this event ranked No. 345 in the world. Tee­ing off in the morn­ing and start­ing on No. 1, Power birdied two of his first three holes be­fore drop­ping a stroke with a bo­gey on No. 4. He bounced right back with a birdie, and his sixth birdie came af­ter hit­ting his ap­proach from 128 yards to 3 feet tomatch his low round of the year. WOODS, MICKELSONPLACED IN U.S. OPEN SU­PER GROUPS » Tiger Woods will play the open­ing two rounds of the U. S. Open with Jus- tin Thomas and Dustin John­son, which feels like a group­ing ofNos. 1-2-3 in the world. Ex­cept thatWoods is No. 80.

The USGA re­leased its tee times for the U.S. Open next week at Shin­necock Hills in Southamp­ton, New York, and it of­fered two stacked groups for the morn­ing and af­ter­noon. Mick­el­son, Jor­dan Spi­eth and Ro­ryMcIl­roy tee off to­gether in the­morn­ing of the first round. Woods, John­son and Thomas are to­gether in the af­ter­noon.

Woods is play­ing the U.S. Open for the first time since he missed the cut at Cham­bers Bay ( Washington) in 2015. He has been out of golf for most of the past two years re­cov­er­ing from back surg­eries, and his­worl­drank­ing fell as low as No. 1,199 un­til re­turn­ing to com­pe­ti­tion last De­cem­ber. In nine PGA Tour events, he has a pair of top 10s and had missed the cut only one time.

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