Greenbrier Classic: A wild yet successful day for Mickelson, Watson

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
Phil Mickelson, left, hits a shot on No. 11 during the first round of the Greenbrier Classic on Thursday. Beckley’s Josh McCling, right, holds a bottle of water on his head after Mickelson’s prior shot hit him.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Phil Mickelson plunked a poor patron on the 11th hole in his return to the Old White TPC course, and Bubba Watson pulled his drive completely across Howard’s Creek on the 17th.

It was a wild afternoon of golf for the Greenbrier Classic’s marquee pairing, and here’s the thing: They both finished under par, Mickelson with a 3-under 67, Watson with a 1-under 69.

Highlighted by Watson’s hack out of a rock-strewn area across the creek, the pair put on a show of scrambling.

And Mickelson kept his sense of humor throughout, telling the gallery on the fourth tee, “Missed you guys. Thought I’d come and say hello.”

He missed five fairways and hit only 10 greens in regulation. But of the eight times he missed, he saved par seven times.

The wildness began from the very first drive. Starting from the first hole, that shot landed behind the No. 2 tee.

His errant approach on the 491-yard 11th hole was the most painful, in a literal sense — he hit a patron flush on the left side of his head. The fan, Josh McClung of Beckley, left the course woozy, but not before watching Mickelson save par.

“Hey, I’ve got to watch Phil after he hit me in the head!” McClung exclaimed.

“He was a little wobbly,” Mickelson said. “I think he’s OK. I mean, the medics came. It’s unnerving because you just never want to hurt somebody like that.”

Through all that, Mickelson made just one bogey, a product of hitting one of the new bunkers down the left side of No. 14. But he recovered nicely with two birdies, missing his approach shot by a foot on the 16th and nearly holing out a 16-foot eagle putt on the 17th.

Watson was mashing his drives, hitting a 340-yarder on the second hole and two 328-yarders. On the 596-yard 17th hole, there’s no way the pink driver is staying in Bubba’s bag.

The problem was, he really, really pulled his drive, perhaps becoming the first player in Greenbrier Classic history to have to play back to the fairway from across the creek. His ball was inbounds by a few feet, but was officially in a hazard.

And it was hazardous. If Watson didn’t play a fluorescent yellow ball, he might not have found it. When he did, it was in a rocky area that appeared to be undisturbed since the June 2016 flood.

Most golfers would have conceded a stroke penalty and taken a drop away from the hazard, but this is Bubba Watson. At the risk of injury or club damage, he chopped it across the creek.

From there, he took out his driver again and tried to hit the green from 305 yards out. He cut it too hard to the left, chipped up and missed an 18-foot putt for a par.

Putting was Watson’s downfall, much more than his occasional wildness off the tee.

“I made some putts for par, but a lot of birdie putts I missed I left short,” he said. “[I was] thinking the greens would have been a little bit faster, but the water slowed them down just a touch.”

Watson and Mickelson played with defending champion Danny Lee, who shot a mundane but more-effective 64. The New Zealand resident talked a little smack afterward.

“Yeah, they hit it long and they don’t like to hit it straight, I know that,” Lee said. “I don’t have that 320 carry in my body, so I just try to hit 295 straight and try to make it happen from there.”

Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dougsmock.

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