SPRINGFIELD, N.J. - Momentum is usually an important ingredient for golfers heading into major tournaments, but yesterday's opening round of the 87th PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club proved to be an exception to the rule.
Phil Mickelson, who hasn't been in contention at any of the year's first three majors, found his way to a share of the lead with five others. Tiger Woods, looking to win three majors in the same season for the second time in his storied career, plunged to a tie for 113th in the field of 156.
With a 3-under-par 67, Mickelson is tied at the top of the leader board with former British Open champion Ben Curtis, Stuart Appleby of Australia, transplanted Canadian Stephen Ames and a pair of South Africans, Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini.
Woods was eight strokes behind after equaling his worst score of the year, a 5-over 75.
"You've got to stay patient," said Woods, who has won four times this year, most recently in last month's British Open at St. Andrews. "It's a process. The guys are not going to go out there and shoot 63s every day. [I'm] still in the tournament, no doubt about it."
Others were even more in the tournament than Woods.
Eleven players, including two-time U.S Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa, former PGA champion Steve Elkington of Australia and Davis Love III, as well as two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer of Germany, were one stroke behind the leaders.
Another 10 players, including former PGA champion and Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton, former British Open champion Justin Leonard and former Maryland coach Fred Funk, were two strokes behind at 1-under. A dozen more, led by two-time and defending champion Vijay Singh, were at even-par 70.
The performance by Mickelson was reminiscent of what he did last year at the Masters in winning his first major championship. After taking three weeks off to prepare, he seemed more in control of his game and certainly more relaxed than he was at the year's first three majors.
"I have a little different feeling heading into this tournament than I've had in some of the others," said Mickelson, who won three times this year before the Masters but has finished no higher than a tie for seventh since. "I really want to put everything I have into finishing off the year the right way."
Mickelson certainly took a step in that direction. After making a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth to get back to even par for the round, he made two more birdie putts from that distance, on the par-4 10th and the par-4 14th. He concluded the round with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th.
"A lot of times you've got to wait until you make a 35-footer for birdie," he said. "It's very difficult to get the ball close to some of these pins. If you try to force it, you're going to end up making bogeys."
Just ask Woods, who made four bogeys and a double bogey before finally making a birdie on his next-to-last hole. Starting with his tee shot on the par-4 10th hole that strayed left of the fairway, Woods struggled with nearly every facet of his game. He hit only six fairways and took 35 putts.
Though his score was only one stroke off his worst in the opening round of a major - a 76 to start the 2003 Masters, where he tied for 15th - it was only one off the 74 he shot on Thursday at this year's Masters. In that case, he trailed Chris DiMarco by seven shots and wound up beating DiMarco in sudden death.
"It was frustrating because I felt good in my practice rounds and I didn't hit it well starting out," said Woods, who found only one fairway on his front nine. "When I did hit it well off the tees, I didn't hit my irons close, and then when I hit it close, I didn't make a putt."
His frustration was apparent, not only in his facial expressions and body language, but also in his actions and words. After a 20-foot birdie try on the par-4 second hole hung on the lip, Woods flipped his putter in the air in disgust and then uttered a profanity loud enough for the gallery to hear.
In contrast, Mickelson seemed to be in the same kind of mood, and groove, that he was at Augusta last year. He high-fived the fans around the sixth green after hitting a lob wedge over tall trees from the 17th fairway to within five feet of the cup. He didn't even seem to mind missing the birdie.
"That was kind of cool there, going through the gallery after hitting right over them," said Mickelson. "It was a fun hole."
Mickelson has played well in the New York area, particularly in recent majors. He finished second to Woods at Bethpage Black in the 2002 U.S. Open and second to Goosen in last year's Open at Shinnecock Hills. The raucous crowds appeal to Mickelson.
"I think the people here are awesome to play in front of and they support so many great championships that I really enjoy coming here and playing," said Mickelson.
Asked if winning this week would be as important as winning a year ago at Augusta, Mickelson said, "It's a little premature for me to answer that question. I don't like to look that far ahead. There's a lot of work to be done and a lot of guys that are 3-under, 2-under, 1-under."
And one whom Mickelson apparently didn't mind seeing shoot 5-over.
"If you're looking for me to shed a tear, it's not going to happen," Mickelson said with a noticeable smile. "But I know or I believe, as I think we all do, that come Sunday his name will find its way up on top there. It'll be tough for us to keep him back. Fortunately, a lot of guys got off to a good start."
Stuart Appleby -3
Stephen Ames -3
Ben Curtis -3
Trevor Immelman -3
Pil Mickelson -3
Rory Sabbatini -3
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