Ailing Mickelson tries to play

Phil Mickelson wants to play the US Open without pain. He apparently will have to settle for just playing.

updated: June 14, 2007 16:08 IST
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Oakmont, Pennsylvania:

Phil Mickelson wants to play the US Open without pain. He apparently will have to settle for just playing.

He played only nine holes on Tuesday, the first time he had played golf since he withdrew May 31 after 11 holes of the Memorial with an inflamed left wrist.

"I should be able to have it be manageable as long as I don't aggravate it," Mickelson said. "Or hit it in the rough."

Mickelson's inability to keep the ball in the short grass is the reason he comes to this major with as much inflammation in his psyche as his left wrist. A year ago, he was one par away from an elusive US Open title until hitting a tee shot off a corporate tent, against a tree and into a bunker, making double bogey on the 18th hole to finish one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy.

Having already tied the US Open record for most second-place finishes - four - Mickelson showed up at Oakmont Country Club two weeks ago for his marathon practice sessions, where he sticks tiny flags on the putting surface and slowly works his way around the green chipping out of the rough from every conceivable angle. He believes that's how he injured his wrist.

Now, his best hope this week might be staying out of the thick grass.

"I think it's important to drive the ball very well here, obviously, and that's going to be the biggest challenge for me," he said. "But this should not be a long-term problem if I don't aggravate the inflammation. And this, unfortunately, isn't the best week for that, given my driving history."

Toughest course

It's not a good week for anyone not at full strength.

Reputed to be the toughest golf course in the United States, Oakmont offers a complete test. The course is not the longest, even if it has the longest par 5 (667 yards) and longest par 3 (288 yards) in major championship history. The greens are so fast that the U.S. Open staff slows them down to keep it fair.

"It's probably the most difficult championship that we face all year, because you're tested from tee-to-gree, and you're tested on the greens," two-time champion Tiger Woods said. "Generally, if you're missing one facet of your game, more than likely you're not going to win the championship. You have to have everything going."

That presumably means all body parts working at full capacity. And while the pain is in Mickelson's wrist, the key might be his head.

"He's a power player," said Ernie Els, another two-time U.S. Open champion who has played with a bad wrist, back and is just now recovering from surgery to repair knee ligaments. "You go at it aggressively, you have to just somehow try and put the pain in the back of your head if you can. I don't know how severe it is. When you're under the gun, you get competitive, you want to hit it the way you always do. You've just got try to and not think about it."

This might be the most rust Mickelson has brought to a major championship, certainly this one. He prefers to play the week before a major, but pulled out last week on the U.S. tour to give his wrist more time to heal. Rarer still is not playing a full 18 holes on any of the practice days leading up to the tournament.

"I could have played 18, but I don't want to push it," Mickelson said.