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Golf roundup

Strong start for Mickelson

Putter puts him one behind Toms

Phil Mickelson reacts after missing a putt on the eighth hole but he finished with a 4-under 68, one stroke off the lead. Phil Mickelson reacts after missing a putt on the eighth hole but he finished with a 4-under 68, one stroke off the lead. (JASON E. MICZEK/Associated Press)
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Associated Press / May 2, 2008

Phil Mickelson is back on the course - and he brought his putter.

After spending the past few weeks breaking in a new putter and working on his short game, Mickelson made an encouraging return to tournament play yesterday, finishing one stroke off the lead after one round of the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, N.C.

His 4-under-par 68 included five birdies, a could've-been-worse bogey, and, most importantly, some close-range consistency that was reminiscent of his only win of the year, his two-stroke triumph over Jeff Quigley in February at the Northern Trust Open.

"I made a lot of putts there, but I didn't feel good with the putter. They went in, but I didn't feel confident with the way they were rolling," Mickelson said. "Today was a different day for me on the greens. I mean, not only did I make a lot, but the ones that missed were tracking and coming close to the edges. So I feel like heading in here, I'm actually putting better."

David Toms, the 2003 champion, broke out of his missed-cut, sore-back funk with a 5-under 67 to take the first-round lead.

Playing at the familiar Quail Hollow Club course where he has three top-seven finishes in four appearances, he posted numbers that back it up.

Mickelson made a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 1, his 10th hole of the day, and that came after he escaped No. 18 with a bogey. He sent his second shot into the water left of the green, took a drop, placed his fourth shot 8 feet from the pin, and made that putt to generate some momentum.

"You can afford to lose a shot around this course," Mickelson said. "You'll make some mistakes, you'll make some bogeys, but you don't want to have huge mistakes like doubles, and to make that up-and-down, make that putt, that was a big one."

He finished with birdies on two of his final three holes, wrapping up his round by making a 25-foot chip shot on No. 9 that put him atop the leaderboard for a while.

In all, he made 15 of 16 putts from inside 10 feet to address an old bugaboo - he had several misses from close range during a disastrous third round that helped knocked him out of contention at the Masters, his most recent tournament. Since then, he ditched his 33 1/2-inch putter in favor of one that is 1 1/2 inches longer.

"It's good to see some positive results from the time I spent the last couple weeks," Mickelson said.

LPGA - Lorena Ochoa felt helpless as too many shots ballooned into relentless gusts that reached 36 miles per hour in Broken Arrow, Okla., sending her to only her second round over par this year.

Stranger still was listening to her describe a 2-over 73 at the SemGroup Championship.

"I managed to finish with a good score," she said.

Hee Young Park held it together in Oklahoma's notorious wind with a 2-under 69, and Beth Bader also was 2 under as she finished up a tough day for everyone at Cedar Ridge.

Two other subpar rounds came from Ochoa's group - Paula Creamer and defending champion Mi Hyun Kim, each with 70.

On a day that Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 influential people in the world, Ochoa had no influence on the wind, as she sent shots high into the air where the gusts knocked her ball every which way.

European - A change of scenery didn't help John Daly's struggling golf game.

Daly, playing in Spain for the first time in 16 years, shot a 3-over 75 in the first round of the Spanish Open in Seville, and was 10 shots back of leader Martin Erlandsson (course-record 65).

The 595th-ranked Daly started with a bogey at the par-3 third and a double bogey at the next hole. He also had three bogeys over the last six holes.

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