Chasing Demons at The Open

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135th Open Championship HOYLAKE, England -- Phil Mickelson has nothing on Greg Owen, if you take away a couple of green jackets and the little trinket the PGA Championship gives its winners. They both try to put a little white ball into a little hole for a living, and on Thursday they managed to do it quite nicely at Royal Liverpool.
 
Golf is an equal opportunity employer, and it doesn't get any more equal than at an Open where a part-time plumber like Warren Bladon can play for the same million dollars or so that's available to Tiger Woods.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson got off to a hot start Thursday, but cooled off on the back nine.
The odds are Woods has a greater chance of pocketing that check than Bladon, a 40-year-old Brit whose girlfriend had to put up the $200 entry fee so he could try to qualify and then ordered him out of the house and to the practice range so he wouldn't blow the money.
 
Bladon apparently didn't practice enough, shooting a 76 in his opening round on a course where par was officially listed at 72 but was actually somewhere south of 70. That didn't stop the British Open leaderboard from being littered with other names like Fraser, Ho, Fukabori and Ilonen that are recognizable only to their mothers and the most avid of golf fans.
 
Owen was near the top of that board, giving credence to the theory that on any given day, the guys who fly in the back of jets can compete with those who fly their own jets. He shared more, though, with Mickelson than just a good first-round score.
 
Both are here hoping to exorcise some demons and they won't know until late Sunday afternoon how successful they will be.
 
Mickelson could be going for his own version of the Grand Slam and sending a message to Woods if he hadn't famously blown a U.S. Open last month. Owen doesn't travel in that league, but he was just as traumatized by a Bay Hill Invitational that he three-jacked away from 3 feet earlier this year.
 
Sometimes it's not about the size of the tournament, but the size of the hurt.
 
Everyone who has ever picked up a club remembers the look of anguish on Mickelson's face, the sight of his wife draping an arm around him, and the stunned reaction of the fans who lined the 18th hole at Winged Foot last month expecting a coronation but getting a collapse instead.
 
Not since Jean Van de Velde went wading into a creek at Carnoustie seven years ago has a major championship been thrown away so easily on the final hole.
 
'I am such an idiot,' Mickelson said afterward, confirming the thoughts of many who watched him try to bend an iron around a big tree on the final hole.
 
Mickelson came here this week determined to move on, but candid enough to admit he will never forget. He put together a nice 3-under 69 that did him no harm, though the decisions made on Thursday morning are usually easier than the ones made on Sunday afternoon.
 
If Mickelson was even thinking about what happened a few weeks earlier, it didn't show as he calmly made his way around the course, grinned his way through a few questions, then hopped a back fence to make his escape.
 
'I'll gladly take it,' Mickelson said, referring to a score that left him three shots off the lead.
 
Owen, a 34-year-old from a few hours up the road in Mansfield, England, has some bad flashbacks of his own he needs to make disappear if he is ever to fulfill his promise. Owen has never won on the PGA TOUR, which made his debacle at the Bay Hill even more painful.
 
Owen was leading the Bay Hill in March when he stabbed his first putt on the 71st hole past the hole from 40 inches away and then missed the comebacker. A bit miffed, he walked quickly to the second putt and missed it, too, then sealed his fate by missing a 12-footer for par on the final hole to lose to Rod Pampling.
 
'It still hurts now even thinking about it,' Owen said.
 
Owen happened to be paired with Pampling on Thursday, though they had other things to do than talk about the meltdown. He shot a 67 that left him even with Woods, and a shot behind an equally obscure leader, Graeme McDowell from Northern Ireland.
 
Also at 67 was a player by the name of Anthony Wall, who has had a relatively undistinguished career over the past decade or so on the European Tour. Wall, the son of a former London taxi driver, was awakened by his two small children at 4:30 a.m., for his second Open.
 
While Woods went to hit balls after making his own bid for the lead, Wall had other duties to attend to.
 
'I'll be changing nappers in an hour,' he said.
 
If Wall has any spare time, he might consider doing a little sports psychology on the side. His only win on the European Tour came six years ago, but his opening round left him pumped about the possibility of winning a big one.
 
'No reason why not. I have two legs and two arms,' Wall said.
 
First-round talk, though, is a lot like first-round golf.
 
By Sunday, it's but a memory.
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - 135th Open Championship
  • Course Tour - Royal Liverpool
  • Full Coverage - 135th Open Championship
     
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