Phil Mickelson opens with three-under-par 67 in Memphis
Ben Crane shoots 63 to lead after truncated day at St. Jude Classic
Play suspended first by thunderstorms, then darkness after resumption
Many players yet to complete opening round of final event before U.S. Open
Phil Mickelson beat the storms to stake an early claim for victory at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis Thursday, the final warmup event for the U.S. Open.
It’s been a season to forget so far for the five-time major winner, with no top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour and the added distraction of a visit from the FBI at the Memorial last week.
Mickelson confirmed he was under investigation for alleged insider trading, strongly denying any wrongdoing, as he battled to a 49th placed finish behind Hideki Matsumyama of Japan.
Hardly ideal preparation in the buildup to the only major to elude him, with Pinehurst No.2 hosting the U.S. Open next week.
But last year he finished second in the corresponding tournament before his sixth runner-up spot at the U.S. Open and his three-under-par 67 served notice he could make a similar challenge.
It left the 43-year-old Mickelson a shot behind then leaders Retief Goosen and Troy Merritt when play was suspended for inclement weather, but that deficit was extended to four when Ben Crane completed a personal season’s best of 63 after the action resumed.
Crane, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour but without a victory since 2011, is recovering from back problems that have hampered him since late last season.
“To be playing has been a blessing, but I haven’t played well at all,” said the 38-year-old, who was two clear when the day ended due to darkness.
“I’m excited to be healthy and start finding my game. It’s really encouraging.”
Peter Malnati birdied two of his last three holes to card a 65 to be tied for second with Billy Horschel, who will complete his last two holes on Friday.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Goosen was in a group of five players tied for fourth on 66, with Australian veteran Stuart Appleby yet to finish his opening round along with Americans Zach Johnson and Jason Bohn.
Goosen finished strongly with three birdies in his last four holes, a contrast with the rest of the season where the back nine has proved a problem.
“It’s something I’ve been struggling with, finishing the round strong,” said the South African, searching for his first PGA Tour win since 2009. He has slipped to 217 in the world rankings, troubled by back problems.
“My back is feeling probably the best now it has felt for probably six, seven years,” the 45-year-old said.
Merritt double-bogeyed the last to drop back to a tie for ninth with Mickelson in a big group, many of whom had yet to complete their rounds.