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Mickelson won't play practice rounds before first tee time

OAKMONT, Pa. -- Phil Mickelson looked more like a bowler
than a three-time major champion, adjusting the black brace on his
left wrist as he stared down the first fairway, an alley lined not
by gutters but the gnarly, ankle-deep rough of Oakmont Country
Club.

It was a gentle swing and a favorable result, right down the
middle.

He played only nine holes Tuesday, but it was the first time he
had played golf since he withdrew May 31 after 11 holes of the
Memorial with an inflamed left wrist. He had hoped to play without
pain at the U.S. Open, but he will settle for playing.

"I should be able to have it be manageable as long as I don't
aggravate it," Mickelson said. "Or hit it in the rough."

Talk about a miracle cure.

Mickelson's inability to keep the ball in the short grass is the
reason he comes to this major with as much inflammation in his
psyche as his left wrist. A year ago at Winged Foot, he was one par
away from an elusive U.S. Open title until hitting a tee shot off a
corporate tent, against a tree and into a bunker, making double
bogey on the 18th hole to finish one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy.

Having already tied the U.S. Open record for most second-place
finishes -- four -- Mickelson showed up at Oakmont two weeks ago for
his marathon practice sessions, where he sticks tiny flags on the
putting surface and slowly works his way around the green chipping
out of the rough from every conceivable angle. He believes that's
how he injured his wrist.

Now, his best hope this week might be staying out of the thick
grass.

"I think it's important to drive the ball very well here,
obviously, and that's going to be the biggest challenge for me,"
he said. "But this should not be a long-term problem if I don't
aggravate the inflammation. And this, unfortunately, isn't the best
week for that, given my driving history."

It's not a good week for anyone not at full strength.

Reputed to be the toughest golf course in the country, Oakmont
offers a complete test. The course is not the longest, even if it
has the longest par 5 (667 yards) and longest par 3 (288 yards) in
major championship history. The greens are so fast that the U.S.
Open staff slows them down to keep it fair.

"It's probably the most difficult championship that we face all
year, because you're tested from tee-to-gree, and you're tested on
the greens," two-time champion Tiger Woods said. "Generally, if
you're missing one facet of your game, more than likely you're not
going to win the championship. You have to have everything going."

That presumably means all body parts working at full capacity.
And while the pain is in Mickelson's wrist, the key might be his
head.

"He's a power player," said Ernie Els, another two-time U.S.
Open champion who has played with a bad wrist, back and is just now
recovering from surgery to repair knee ligaments. "You go at it
aggressively, you have to just somehow try and put the pain in the
back of your head if you can. I don't know how severe it is. When
you're under the gun, you get competitive, you want to hit it the
way you always do. You've just got try to and not think about it."

This might be the most rust Mickelson has brought to a major
championship, certainly this one. He prefers to play the week
before a major, but pulled out last week on the PGA Tour to give
his wrist more time to heal. Rarer still is not playing a full 18
holes on any of the practice days leading up to the tournament.

"I could have played 18, but I don't want to push it,"
Mickelson said.

He tried to play last Tuesday and couldn't, so he called his
doctors for a cortisone shot to help ease the inflammation. On his
way to Pittsburgh, he took a detour to Las Vegas to work with swing
coach Butch Harmon. He still couldn't play.

But with therapy, ice and rest, Mickelson believes it's getting
better.

He hit balls for the first time Monday upon his arrival at
Oakmont, but only took one swing with the driver and didn't take
any full shots off the ground, using a tee to hit middle irons. He
only pulled out the driver a couple of times over nine holes
Tuesday.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was seeing rough actually
shorter than when he got hurt. Woods and Ogilvy noticed the same
thing. Ogilvy was reported to have shot 85 last week while losing
seven balls, but the Australian set the record straight.

"I think I shot 83 and lost two," Ogilvy said. "But it was
hard. It was five shots harder last Monday than it is right now. I
didn't think there would be one score in the 60s at all, and I
thought there would be scores in the 90s the way we played it last
Monday. But the last couple of days, it's been a lot more playable
than that."

Some of that was a storm that moved in over the weekend, some of
that was knocking the rust off the lawnmowers.

Woods is not convinced about the latter.

"I know they had the mowers out there," he said. "I don't
know if they did anything."

He has played two full practice rounds this week, but plans to
do nothing but chip and putt Wednesday. His practice partner has
been big-hitting Bubba Watson, and even with Watson's swing speed,
Woods was amazed to watch him try to hit 5-iron out of the rough
right of the 15th fairway and watch the ball squirt only about 30
feet.

That's the reason Mickelson will try to keep his game on the
straight and narrow, now more than ever.

He switched from bandages to the brace, and says his right wrist
also is sore because of favoring it during light workouts. As for
his expectation, this is one time Mickelson didn't want to get into
any specifics.

"I want to ... continue to improve my ball-striking without
aggravating my wrist anymore," he said.

The best medicine is staying out of the rough -- for Mickelson
and everyone else.