Stricker, Mickelson share common bond during first round
ARDMORE, Pa. It's only appropriate that Steve Stricker is paired with Phil Mickelson for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open.
While much fuss was made over Mickelson flying back to his California home to see his daughter Amanda graduate from middle school, Stricker is no slouch in the family department himself.
After making birdie on two of his final three holes to shoot 1-over-par 71 at Merion Golf Club on Thursday, Stricker was greeted by his wife, Nicki, and his two daughters, Bobbi Maria and Isabella Nicole.
"I thought it was pretty cool to do what he did," Stricker said of Mickelson's cross-country jaunt.
While Mickelson fired a 3-under 67 to seize the early lead, Stricker also spent plenty of time on the leaderboard. After starting on the 11th hole, the Edgerton native and Madison resident was 1-under for his round and on the 16th green when the horn blew at 8:36 a.m. to suspend play.
After a rain delay of three hours and 32 minutes, play resumed and Stricker made his par putt at 16 and then made par on his next three holes.
But he ran into trouble at the par-5 second when he found the rough and made bogey. On the next hole, a 246-yard par-3, Stricker tried to hit an easy 3-wood and put a poor swing on the ball.
"I turned it over and it flew right into that pine tree, and I had no play at all," Stricker said. "I was lucky that I was outside the bunker. I had to get a ruling so I could take a drop outside the bunker."
Stricker deemed his ball unplayable, took a drop and a penalty stroke, then pitched onto the green. He two-putted for a double bogey.
When he was signing his scorecard after the round, Stricker was informed that a caller had questioned whether he had taken an appropriate drop. Officials deemed that he had violated no rules, and no further penalty was issued.
"Yeah, I was surprised," he said. "I understand the ruling, and it clearly wasn't my intention. I had a pine tree in my way and I was struggling to get the line of my drop. I couldn't see the wicker basket.
"I dropped it in an area that was undisturbed anyway. It wasn't like I matted it down and dropped it there."
Stricker bogeyed the par-4 6th to go to 3-over for his round, but he bounced back with birdies at Nos. 8 and 10, his final hole of the round, to get back in contention.
"Overall, it wasn't a bad start," said Stricker, who announced in January he would play a limited schedule in order to spend more time with his family. "First round in a month and it wasn't too bad."
Stricker was grilled more about Mickelson's play than his own game, but he also was interested to see what Lefty would do after flying overnight.
"He's such a competitor. He thinks he can do anything," Stricker said. "The biggest thing with anybody out here is if you're comfortable and confident in your decision—and he felt good about it—you can live with it. I think he expected to play well."
Now Stricker will play a waiting game to see when his second round will begin. He, Mickelson and Keegan Bradley were originally scheduled to start at 11:41 a.m. today, but that will be pushed back so that the players who didn't finish Thursday's first round can do so.
"It's nice to be done and it's nice to get some rest," Stricker said. "If all goes well, we should be back out there maybe 4 or 5 o'clock, so it all kind of evens out in the end. We'll see."