By Teresa M. Walker
AP Sports Writer
Phil Mickelson is in the midst of a busy three weeks, so he made sure he got one of the first tee times bright and early Wednesday morning at the TPC Southwind course.
A man celebrating his 46th birthday on the first day of the U.S. Open next week needs a little break.
“I’m going to go straight back to the room and rest up,” Mickelson said.
“I don’t feel as though there’s anything about my game that I’m worried about, but I want to make sure that I’m physically and mentally rested and ready to go, because for me to play well next week, I think it’s important that I play well this week.”
Mickelson practiced at Oakmont the past two days after tying for 20th at Memorial last week. He also played the pro-am at that event last week and played again Wednesday in Memphis, Tenn., before the FedEx St. Jude Classic starts Thursday.
He’s got plenty of company in Memphis with players trying to tune up their games under the stress of competition before heading to Pennsylvania.
Dustin Johnson, who lost last year’s U.S. Open on a painful three-putt, is back at an event he won in 2012. Former U.S. Open champs Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els also are here.
Defending champ Fabian Gomez of Argentina likely needs to finish at least fourth or higher to play his way into the field at Oakmont.
Strong finishes also could help Gary Woodland and Ryan Palmer earn the U.S. Open berths they’ve just missed so far with six spots held open for those who break into the world’s top 60 by Sunday night.
The U.S. Open is the major that Mickelson has come so close to without winning, and he’s working hard preparing himself for another chance at that title. With St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital benefiting, this tournament certainly is attractive to anyone.
Mickelson said his reasons for being in Memphis are selfish.
“It really gets me ready … to get my game sharp, to play competitive for the U.S. Open, which is a tournament I would love to win to cap off my career, and I feel like playing here and playing well gives me the best chance to do that,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson, whose last victory was the 2013 British Open, tied for third here a year ago. He likes the par-70, 7,239-yard course and is looking for some consistency in his game, having made nine of 13 cuts this year finishing second at Pebble Beach in February and tying for fourth at Wells Fargo last month.
He has putted well this year, and Mickelson said he’s starting to hit shots again where the game is starting to feel easy.
“It’s a matter of time, and it’s a matter of being patient,” Mickelson said. “I haven’t won in quite some time, and it’s very easy to get impatient and try to force the issue, and so I’m trying to not worry so much about the result and just kind of play because I feel like my game is better than it has been in years, and I’m playing well enough to win.”
First-time champs have been the norm this season with 12 taking tournaments. Gomez won his first PGA Tour title here last year, becoming only the fifth Argentinian to win.
He followed that up by winning the Sony Open in January, but he needs another strong performance here to play at Oakmont next week.
Two-time champ David Toms, who qualified Monday for his 19th U.S. Open, also is back here and is grouped with Mickelson and another two-time St. Jude champ in Justin Leonard.
The field also features a few players making their tour debuts. Wesley Bryan, part of a trick-shot duo with his brother, has earned his tour card for the next season with two Web.com Tour wins.
Lee McCoy finished fourth at the Valspar Championship in March in Florida as an amateur finishing up his college career at Georgia, and he was sixth at the NCAA Championship.
McCoy said there’s so many coming onto the tour it’s tough to get a slot.
“Without the Valspar, I … probably wouldn’t be sitting here,” McCoy said.