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AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson broke par for the 50th time at Augusta National on Thursday, overcoming the whipping winds for a one-under-par 71 in the opening round at the U.S. Masters.
Three-times champion Mickelson, seeking at age 46 to surpass Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters winner, licked his lips when he saw the weather forecast, figuring it would give him an advantage over younger players.
As winds gusted to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour), befuddling many players, Mickelson picked his spots, playing conservatively at times but mindful that the receptive, rain-softened greens would allow birdies to be picked off occasionally.
"I love it," said Mickelson, playing his 25th Masters after making his debut as an amateur in 1991.
"I love it around here especially because the wind is going to magnify your misses and a lot of the guys that aren't familiar with this course and where you can go to on certain holes for certain pins will miss in the wrong spot and end up making big numbers."
The American left-hander said he was mostly trying to make pars while taking advantage of the par-fives.
He did just that on the par-five second hole, sinking a 42-foot eagle putt, much to the excitement of the throng of fans who came out early.
"That was cool," he said. "To make a putt on two for eagle and get the round started like that was exciting. But I knew that there were still a lot of tough holes left out there and just trying to make pars was kind of the goal."
Undeterred by four bogeys in a miserable seven-hole stretch mid-round, he birdied the par-three 16th, taking advantage of the generous pin location to use the green's slope as his ball trickled down to stop three feet from the hole.
Mickelson, who ended the day six strokes behind leader Charley Hoffman, said he will take the same approach in Friday's round, when the wind is expected to continue.
"You got to think par first and then if the birdie opportunities are there, then great," he said.
Editing by Andrew Both