GULLANE, Scotland (AP) -- Phil Mickelson was up to his knees in hay and down on his knees as he tried to play out of a pot bunker. At the end of a disappointing day in the British Open, he was thankful to still be standing.
"I felt like I was never able to try to make birdies. I was always trying to make pars," Mickelson said after a 5-over 76 Friday. "That was a difficult thing."
He did make one birdie when it mattered on the par-5 17th hole, which enabled him to at least make the cut in the one major championship that has his number.
Mickelson was runner-up in the PGA Championship last year and the U.S. Open last month. He has finished third three times in the Masters.
Golf's oldest championship is another story.
Mickelson never has finished higher than 11th in the British Open and never seriously has contended. He thought this year might be different, especially having spent the last 18 months changing his swing to give him a better shot at links golf.
What hasn't changed are the results.
Mickelson was at 2-over 144, eight strokes behind, and will have to climb past dozens of players to get anywhere near the leaders over the weekend.
"I don't want to say I'm out of it yet," Mickelson said. "Stranger things have happened."
Strangest of all was the one part of his game that has suffered the most over two rounds on the Muirfield links. Mickelson has made vast strides in his driving this year, and that's one of the keys to avoiding big numbers at this British Open.
Mickelson has hit only 12 fairways in two days, putting him at the bottom of the list in driving accuracy.
"I was a little concerned because I didn't strike it well yesterday," Mickelson said. "I went out early and had a practice session, and I had a tough time feeling comfortable. When the first drive went right and I made double, I knew I was in for a tough day."
He had no idea how tough.
Just one stroke out of the lead at the start of a cool, wet day that was ripe for low scores, Mickelson found himself knee-deep in the heather on the opening hole.
Hack out to the fairway? After all, this was the kind of grass where Tiger Woods felt his only option was to slug a wedge and hope for the best.
"I thought I had a pretty good lie, I really did," Mickelson said. "I thought it would come out well. I'm not really sure what happened, where the grass caught and grabbed the club. It looked like a lie where I could hit a 7-iron out -- which I hit."
It didn't go out. It stayed in.
And the impact of his club hitting the gnarly grass was so strong that Mickelson shook his right hand in pain.
"I had a stinger," he said. "It didn't seem to affect any other shot, but I did have a lingering pain."
More misery followed.
Mickelson was at even-par for the tournament when his tee shot on the 14th found the edge of a pot bunker. He had no room to stand, and felt his only play was to kneel.
"I went on my knees, and it was a regular swing plane because the ball was well below my feet," Mickelson said. "Those are the shots we seem to have in these bunkers."
Indeed, two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen had a similar lie on the 18th, and he splashed the ball out to 6 feet to save par. Mickelson had no such luck.
The ball got out of the sand, but not out of the tall grass. It took two more shots to reach the green, and two putts added up to another double bogey.
"It was a day where misses were magnified and well-struck shots were also magnified," Mickelson said. "And I didn't hit many good shots."
As a result, he's in a tough spot -- trying to make up ground on the leaders, Woods among them.
Mickelson has reason for hope. Colin Montgomerie had a 64 on Friday, so Lefty knows that kind of score is out there at Muirfield. And he says his swing is not that far off.
He also recalled what happened at Shinnecock Hills in the 1995 U.S. Open, when Neal Lancaster teed off some five hours before the leaders and shot 29 on the front nine to suddenly get into contention.
"That's probably how many hours I'll be teeing off before the leaders," he said. "I'm not about to give up with two rounds to go. I think today put me in an unfortunate position of having to make up ground on all the leaders.
"I'm obviously going to need a lot of help."
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