Good start gives Gay chance at Open berth
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Brian Gay had the best opening round. Phil Mickelson called his first 18 holes a good start.
Well, he left himself plenty of work if he wants to make the cut at the St. Jude Classic in his first tournament back from his six-month PGA Tour suspension.
Gay shot a 6-under 64 for a one-stroke lead Thursday on a TPC Southwind course softened a bit by a thunderstorm overnight and some spotty showers early in the round. Jimmy Walker shot a 65, and Jose Maria Olazabal and Rich Beem were tied in a group at 66.
It's a nice change for Gay, who has fought with his game and through a couple injuries since winning at Hilton Head earlier this year. A win here would clinch a spot next week in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black for someone who was three strokes off qualifying Monday.
"Obviously, 6 under is great almost anytime you start at 6 under, so I'm pleased. Been a little bit of a struggle lately. My ball striking hasn't been there really since I won. I've had some minor injuries. I haven't played that much. Just looking to get something going," Gay said.
Just getting on a golf course was good for Mickelson in his first event since announcing his wife, Amy, has breast cancer. He was tied with 16 others at 2 under following a round in which he sliced a 4-wood off the tee into the pond at No. 18 as part of a double bogey.
"It wasn't a great round, but it was a good start," Mickelson said. "It was fun to play a little bit."
He appeared fatigued with a tee time Thursday that had him in the fourth group. He practiced at Bethpage on Tuesday before flying into Memphis on Wednesday for an emotional news conference before an afternoon pro-am round that was his only look at a course redesigned since his last visit here in 2001.
With an afternoon tee time Friday, Mickelson said he had plenty of time to rest for an event he's using to prime himself to compete at the U.S. Open and as a brief distraction before his wife has surgery the first week of July.
He had a talk with three-time major champ Padraig Harrington before their round and kept chatting between shots.
Harrington won his first two PGA Tour events in 2005 while his father battled cancer. He missed the British Open that summer at St. Andrews when his father died.
"I know when my dad had cancer, the easiest time was on the golf course because you don't have to answer any questions," Harrington said. "You don't have to explain yourself on the golf course. You've got to remember — we're quite proficient at dealing with that little white golf ball, not quite as good about explaining our emotions."
Mickelson said the round felt typical once he got going, and he couldn't have started much better with an approach hit to 5 feet for birdie. He then holed out a 25-footer for birdie on his next hole, the par-3 11th. His worst shot came off the 18th tee.
"I felt a little rusty, but I made a couple of birdies early, and that made it more relaxed," he said.
Gay missed the Masters when he ranked 31st on the money list with invites going to the top 30, and he ranked 57th in the world with the top 50 going to the U.S. Open.
He rebounded by winning the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head by 10 strokes — the largest win on tour this year.
He withdrew at The Players Championship, missed the cut at Byron Nelson and tied for 27th at Colonial after shooting a final-round 64. After a week off, he tried qualifying for the U.S. Open on Monday in Tennessee only to miss out, leaving him among seven golfers here needing another win to head to New York or head home.
"For some reason, I didn't even think about obviously winning here would be two wins between," Gay said. "Somebody mentioned it I think yesterday but I didn't really think about it. Just figured I would have next week off."
Daly grabbed plenty of attention on a course he considers home but more for his presence and the neon green shirt he paired with green and yellow pants than his play. He shot a 72 that included three straight bogeys after he made the turn at 1 under and blamed his putter.
"I just couldn't get my lines up. Missed a lot of putts right. I just haven't been able to ... I hit the ball good. Hit a lot of fairways. I couldn't get it in the hole," Daly said.