Drama continues to follow Mickelson


PINEHURST, N.C. -- Some things defy U.S. Open explanation: long-sleeve pullover sales in the merchandise center (it's hot enough here to bake a beef roast) ... the USGA's decision to pair three plump players together (weight-ism?) ... and, of course, Phil Mickelson.

It isn't a U.S. Open without some Phil-related drama. He usually waits until late Sunday to do something spectacularly memorable, but this time the intrigue began Thursday.

Here's the best way to describe it: Mickelson is the only player in the field who has been interviewed by the FBI, is putting with a claw-style grip (for the moment), and can still find time to mess with 19-year-old amateur (for the moment) Matthew Fitzpatrick during the opening round.

Mickelson shot even-par 70. Not bad, but it should have been lower, especially on a morning when the wind took a sick day and there was actual moisture on Pinehurst's camelback greens.

"I'm never upset at anything off of par," said Mickelson. "It's usually a good score. It's a good start."

Usually. But 2-under would have been better. Mickelson (or Michelson as one of the on-course scoreboards identified him) birdied two of his first four holes, but then contracted another case of indifferent putting.

Lefty needed 31 putts to get through his round, which is a lot when you're trying to break an 0-for-lifetime U.S. Open winless streak. It also explains why Mickelson is willing to try to anything, including the claw grip.

Mickelson detailed the benefits of the new grip after the round -- something about how it helps ball alignment, relieves some pressure in his bottom hand and keeps his lines straight. He lost me at bottom-hand pressure.

All I know is that Mickelson is so committed to the new grip that he can't wait to go back to his old grip. Asked how long he'll go steady with the claw, Mickelson said: "It might be weeks. It might be months. It might be days, hours, I don't know."

He's driving the ball well. He has a crush on Pinehurst No. 2. And the need to get up and down at this course plays to his strengths.

"And the one club that's hurting me is the putter," he said. "So I've got to get that turned around the next couple of days."

This is true. He can't spend the remainder of his stay here doing what he did Thursday, which was tap his putter in frustration after another missed attempt.

So Mickelson is even par at the U.S. Open and apparently even par with the Feds. The New York Times reported that the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission have discovered no link between Mickelson and traded shares of Clorox. Or Tide, Wisk or Cheer, for that matter.

In short, he's apparently off the hook on half of a federal investigation into insider trading. Still to be determined is what role, if any, he played in other reported stock trades that have caught the attention of government investigators.

"I really don't want to say much about it," said Mickelson, who has maintained his innocence -- and his willingness to cooperate with investigators -- since first approached by the Feds last September. "I do have a lot to say and I will say it at the right time. I've got a lot to say, I just can't say it right now."

So he plays golf instead. And plays little pranks on the unsuspecting English teenager, Fitzpatrick, who won the U.S. Amateur last year and will turn pro next week.

On the par-5 fifth hole (the threesome's 14th hole of the day), Mickelson's ball rolled over Fitzpatrick's ball marker and settled in front of it.

"Is that all right there?" said Mickelson.

Fitzpatrick fell for it.

"I'm going to need that moved," he said.

"Don't worry, I'm only joking," said Mickelson, who moved his own mark.

It wasn't "Saturday Night Live" funny, but it wasn't bad. Mickelson and Fitzpatrick could smile about it. On Thursday, Mickelson could smile about a lot of things.