By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
NORTON, Mass. -- Here’s the deal. Phil Mickelson shot 63 and he did not hit the ball all that well. When Mickelson shot 60 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, it seemed every shot was centered on the clubface. In the opening round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Lefty hit 14 greens but averaged 23 feet, 10 inches from the cup. Not all of his shots were hole-high but he did manage his misses on the correct side of the cup.
What Mickelson did well in the opening round was putt. He had just 10 putts in the first nine holes, shooting 28. Phil is third in strokes gained-putting, picking up more than four shots on the field.
Mickelson says he has found a little secret in his putting but is not revealing what key has helped his stroke.
Tennis: How did Steve Stricker prepare for the Deutsche Bank Championship? He watched tennis. Stricker took his family to New York City to watch the U.S. Open. He spent some of Monday and all of Tuesday watching tennis. That unique preparation resulted in an opening round 66. Sticker says he has struck a balance between work and family that is helping both at home and on the course. We should all be so lucky.
Back up: Tiger Woods showed no back problems in the opening round. In fact, any lingering affect from last week’s spasms may have actually helped his tempo. Sometimes, when a player is injured he unconsciously smooths his swing, resulting in better tempo. Woods said the Friday start allowed his back another day to heal and there were no lingering affects. Tiger seemed dissatisfied with his opening round 68, commenting conditions were prime for a very low score.
Dufnering: Jason Dufner had his best putting round of the season. He’s been successful with great ballstriking, winning a PGA Championship, but is a pedestrian 56th in strokes gained-putting. That changed in the opening round at TPC Boston, as he hit only 10 greens but took only 23 putts and was a solid 6 for 8 in scrambling.
Maturation: When Roberto Castro shot 63 in the opening round of THE PLAYERS Championship he followed it with a 78 and eventual 19th-place finish. There was huge improvement at AT&T National, when Castro opened with a 66 and eventually finished second. You can see the growth in confidence. Castro was a very solid 15 of 18 in hitting greens and was surprisingly long at 295.5 yards per drive. He may not win the tournament but it won’t be because of nerves.
Caddies: It was an all-star pairing of Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson but equally impressive were the caddies. The lineup of Joe LaCava, Steve Williams and Jim Mackay are as good a group of bagmen as you will ever see. Some people like to pick horses by the jockey, reasoning the best riders receive the best horses. You can say the same for golf. Mackay, Williams and LaCava have a lot of horse to handle this week.
Close: Rory McIlroy is tantalizingly close to playing very good golf but just seems to misfire on some key opportunities. Every shot seems solid with plenty of power and Rory has the confidence to hit driver on tight holes. Golf has always been about turning 5 into 4 and McIlroy is missing that knack at times. It didn’t help that he was 2 of 5 in scrambling during his opening-round 70.
Conditions: The golf course could not be in better shape for scoring and the weather cooperated. With overcast skies for much of the day, the greens remained receptive and rolled beautifully. That’s why 56 of 100 players were able to break par. There was about a two-hour window when a slight breeze kicked up that made club selection difficult. Tiger Woods’ 7-iron into the eighth caught a gust that blew it to the back of the green, but for most of the day scoring was optimal. Those golfers with early tee times on Friday should have a great chance to separate themselves from the field.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.