Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Wrist brace carries Mickelson through first round of US Open in Pennsylvania

AP , OAKMONT, PENNSYLVANIA

The wrist brace came off. The wrist brace went back on.

Phil Mickelson fidgeted with it on a rare visit to the fairway, examined it while waiting for yet another shot from the rough. Around the green, it was on to begin the round and then off later when things started getting good.

"I don't need it for putting," Mickelson said at the US Open on Thursday. "I don't know why I didn't do that earlier."

It always seemed to have his attention, and with good reason. It's not often the second-ranked golfer in the world plays with something that looks like it was purchased at a tenpin bowling alley wrapped around his inflamed left wrist.

Funny looking

It looked funny and felt odd. Photographers couldn't stop taking pictures of it, people pointed at it and there was more talk about the wrist than Tiger Woods' upcoming baby.

All which was just fine with Lefty. Because it worked.

Without it, Mickelson might never have teed it up in the first round. Without it, he might have quit after a few holes of flailing away in the deep grass, a place he visited with great regularity.

With it, he managed to get in 18 holes for the first time in nearly three weeks.

With it, he was able to par the last eight holes and finish with a somewhat surprising 74.

No surprise then that it was still firmly around his wrist as Mickelson got behind the wheel of a red sports utility vehicle in the evening and drove away from Oakmont Country Club with a satisfied look on his face and the US Open still within his grasp.

Simple thing

He might not have been thinking this, but others were.

Could something as simple as a wrist brace be the thing that finally helps Mickelson win the tournament he so desperately covets?

Stranger things have happened, as all of those who remember the 18th hole last year at Winged Foot know so well.

"I just have to keep making pars," Mickelson said. "I believe I'll get better as the days go on."

Mickelson believes that, and there's no reason he shouldn't.

This, after all, was a day where he got better as the round went on and the rust came off.

"I've got in my mind a way to shoot around par, but I didn't execute today and the next three days I've got to execute better," he said. "Hopefully as the tournament goes on, I'll strike it better and better."

For once, Mickelson isn't burdened by expectations. He really has only one worry, and that's to remember not to leave the brace at home.

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