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Golf: Mickelson starts strong as US Open begins

Phil Mickelson, chasing a US Open title and a career grand slam after six runner-up finishes, opened with a birdie on Wednesday as the 114th US Open teed off at Pinehurst.

PINEHURST: Phil Mickelson, chasing a US Open title and a career grand slam after six runner-up finishes, opened with a birdie on Wednesday as the 114th US Open teed off at Pinehurst.

The US left-hander, a five-time major winner who turns 44 on Monday, sank a four-foot birdie putt on the par-5 10th hole to launch his bid to end 24 years of US Open frustration.

"If I can manage my game and play it smart and just focus on the shot at hand, I feel like I'll give myself a good chance," Mickelson said.

Reigning British Open champion Mickelson would join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen in having won all four major titles with a victory.

England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, the reigning US Open champion, and Americans Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker shared the early lead at two-under under overcast skies that helped soften Pinehurst's formidable greens for the early starters.

Snedeker and Kuchar, each seeking his first major title, birdied the first and par-5 fifth, as did 2012 US Open winner Simpson, while Fitzpatrick, playing alongside Mickelson on the back nine, birdied the 10th with a testy 12-foot putt and added another at the par-4 12th.

Also on two-under early was David Toms, the 2001 PGA Championship winner.

Others to start the US Open with a birdie at the 10th included Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, the Memorial winner two weeks ago, and 20-year-old US prodigy Jordan Spieth, the Masters runner-up.

Among other favourites, Australian Jason Day had a bogey-bogey start but recovered with birdies at the fourth and fifth to stand on level par.

Rory McIlroy, coming off a victory at the European PGA Championship at Wentworth last month, opened with four pars in a row.

The 2011 US Open and 2012 PGA Championship winner, who got some advice from 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus last week, hopes to win on a firm, dry layout after two major titles in wet conditions.

"With the way I've been playing and how I feel my game is, I'm one of the favourites coming in here," McIlroy said.

Defending champion Justin Rose, who has not won since capturing his first major title last year at Merion, opened on the back nine with two pars.

The Englishman is trying to become the first back-to-back US Open winner since American Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.

Afternoon starters are topped by a powerhouse group that features world number one Adam Scott, reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson and 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.

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