Mickelson travels long way to top of leaderboard

Steps off red-eye flight from San Diego and into first-round lead at Merion

Early leader Phil Mickelson on his round Thursday at the U.S. Open.

ARDMORE, Pa. — Golf's version of "Manny being Manny" is "Phil being Phil."

The goofball Manny Ramirez has cut off an outfielder's throw while standing in the outfield, high-fived a fan after a leaping grab and lost a diamond earring sliding into third base.

Phil Mickelson's condition is the opposite. He overthinks everything. Or so we think.

The guy who has carried two drivers at the Masters has a driver-free bag at Merion, figuring a 64-degree wedge will save him more strokes than an extra 20 yards on Nos. 5 and 6.

OK. That's logical.

But how about returning to San Diego to practice Wednesday and attend the eighth-grade graduation of daughter Amanda? Mickelson got even less sleep than the Blackhawks and Bruins fans who stayed up to watch Wednesday's triple-overtime thriller.

His private jet departed at 8 p.m. Pacific time, landing in the Philadelphia area at 3:30 a.m. Eastern, two hours before he got to the course for his 7:11 tee time.

"This is not out of the ordinary," Mickelson said. "I do this about six to 10 times a year for corporate outings."

And that will mark the last time someone compares a corporate outing to a U.S. Open round at Merion, where Mickelson's playing partners, Keegan Bradley and Steve Stricker, combined to shoot 8 over par Thursday.

Mickelson's 3-under 67, the day's low round, began with a three-putt bogey on No. 11. He actually laughed about it with caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay because many of his best days have begun on the wrong side of par.

He got to even par with a birdie on the 102-yard 13th, and after a 31/2-hour rain delay, he got a boost during a 15-minute wait on the first tee. He scarfed down a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and took a swig of an energy drink, quickly placing the tiny empty bottle in Mackay's bib.

"I might have used a little caffeine boost at the turn to keep me sharp," Mickelson said.

Wearing black from head to toe like Gary Player, Mickelson certainly looked refreshed.

On the walk to his drive on No. 1, a curvy blonde wearing a bright orange shirt that read "HAPPY BIRTHDAY PHIL" came upon Mickelson at the crosswalk. He smiled. A fan then walked by the woman and said, "My name is Phil."

Nice try. A better attempt came from Mickelson, who had pulled his wedge approach to 30 feet on the 340-yard hole. Mickelson's putt slowly rolled to the hole as fans yelled, "Go … go … go!"

It died in the cup. Two brilliant up-and-downs — one with a flop shot to a tucked pin — and two more birdies left him at 3 under for the day.

"He's had a crazy last 24 hours," Bradley said.

Even if Mickelson, whose 43rd birthday is Sunday, does not win his first U.S. Open, he still has a chance for Father of the Year. He was proud that in Amanda's speech, she quoted Ron Burgundy's "kind of a big deal" line from "Anchorman" — but, he said, in a way that was "not arrogant but funny."

Asked what it meant to Amanda to have her dad there, Mickelson replied: "She said, 'Stay, it's the U.S. Open.' But I didn't want to miss her speech. I didn't want to miss her graduation. I wanted to be there."

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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