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    • Mickelson optimistic despite opening-round 74

    • Phil Mickelson shot a front-nine 35, a back-nine 39 and is tied for 84th after round one at Royal Liverpool. (Mike Erhmann/Getty Images) Phil Mickelson shot a front-nine 35, a back-nine 39 and is tied for 84th after round one at Royal Liverpool. (Mike Erhmann/Getty Images)

    HOYLAKE, England -- That 74 he shot Thursday at Royal Liverpool was hardly the way Phil Mickelson had hoped to start his title defense at The Open Championship.

    At the same time, he saw bright spots even though the popular left-hander is eight strokes off Rory McIlroy's lead. 

    "This is the best I've hit it in over a year," Mickelson said. "I had as much control over the golf ball as I've had in a long time. Whether it was working cuts into the wind, draws into the wind, shots off the tee.

    "And certainly the score sucks, but my game is as good as it's been in a long time."

    Mickelson, who said he hit a lot of "tremendous" shots on Thursday, actually was 1 under through 10 holes. But he bogeyed three of his final six, including the 18th where he unknowingly found the internal out of bounds.

    "I saw it bounce, it looked like it was fine," he said. "Nobody pointed it was out. It would be nice to hit the other ball without having an 8-minute delay or what have you (but) it's not their fault. I hit it out of bounds."

    Mickelson recalled the 2004 Open Championship where he opened with a 73 but got back into the mix with a 66. So he'll do his best on Friday, see what the weather brings and wait until it all shakes down at the end of 36 holes.

    "Certainly, this afternoon was a lot more difficult than the morning," Mickelson said. "So if you look at scores comparatively, it's not really that bad a score relative to the other guys that played in my wave.

    "And if we get comparable conditions for the entire field, I think my score is going to be a little better."

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