Phil Mickelson believes he can still win the US Open despite failing to make even one birdie in a four over par 75 at Pebble Beach.
The world number two, who will overtake Tiger Woods at the top of the rankings if he wins his first US Open title, confessed that he was “horrific” on the greens as he slipped five shots behind pacesetters Ian Poulter, KJ Choi, Mike Weir and Spanish debutant Rafael Cabrera Bello.
The 40 year old American looked in total control of his game early on but missed a string of birdie chances inside 10 feet.
“Obviously I didn’t score well,” said Mickelson, who finished his front nine with bogeys at the 16th, 17th and 18th before dropping another shot at the fourth where he failed to get out of a bunker at the first attempt.
“But I thought I played pretty well, other than putting, I just putted horrific. It’s very frustrating for me to miss all those opportunities. I don’t mind making a bad swing here, there, making a bogey here, there, it’s part of the U.S. Open.
“I thought going without any doubles was good. It’s just I’ve got to make birdies. And when I missed those 5footers and that three footer and a couple of ten footers, it just was very frustrating for me.”
Mickelson made two visits to the Pacific Ocean - hooking a five iron into the water at the par-three 17th before carving an adventurous three wood approach well wide at the par-five 18th.
“We have three rounds left,” Mickelson said of his chances. “I know if I shoot under par tomorrow I’ll be right there. There’s no way under par is going to win here, I don’t believe. I think over par will win.
“Because of that I’m right there. But I need to play well. I need to putt well, score well.”
Pebble Beach looked like the clear winner on day one of the US Open as the game’s greatest player struggled to come to terms with fast, hard-running conditions.
Dane Soren Kjeldsen looked set to open up a clear lead when he got to three under par after just six holes.
But the lightning fast California track was unforgiving and he eventually posted a one over par 72 that left him tied with the likes of majors winners Zach Johnson, jim Furyk, Justin Leonard and the reigning Players champion Tim Clark of South Africa.
Kjeldsen said: “This course increases the stress levels considerably compared to most weeks. On a scale of 10, it’s a 10.”
England’s Luke Donald, who has finished second, first and third in his last three starts, was happy to post a level par 71 that leaves him well up the leaderboard.
Donald said: “Level par is a US Open is a solid start. I don’t think I played my best. The course this morning had opportunities for birdies but I played solid and made a couple of birdies and a poor double bogey at the second. Other than that I kept it in play pretty well. It wasn’t flashy. Just a solid round.
Italy’s Eduardo Molinari discovered that to his dismay as he turned in two under par 33 but came home in 42 for a 75 after double bogeys at the 17th and 18th
“It’s a very difficult course,” the former US Amateur champion said. “It’s playing firm. I had a great round going and played poorly on the back nine. It happens.”
Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, bogeyed the 17th and 18th for his 70 but was delighted to offset his mistakes with six birdies.
“The putter was probably the strength of my game today,” Weir confessed. “If they didn’t go in, they looked like they were going in. And you need to do that on these greens.
“Even in February when they’re not as fast and they’re maybe a little bumpier because it’s wet, I’ve always putted them well. So I just have confidence on these greens.”
Ulsterman Graeme McDowell was tied for third on one under par through 12 holes after birdies at the first, sixth, seventh and 12th cancelled out bogeys at the second, third and ninth.
As for Woods, he went to the turn in one over par, following eighth straight pars with a bogey at the ninth.
His playing partners had contrasting rounds on the boil, however. Two time champion Ernie Els turned in level par but championship joint favourite Lee Westwood was four over par through five holes before a birdie at the short seventh got him back to three over with nine to play.
Rory McIlroy was four over par through eight holes after a double bogey seven at the 14th and bogeys at the 16th and 17th.
Gareth Maybin was three over through 12 holes while Waterford amateur Kevin Phelan was three over after five holes.