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Phil Mickelson starts strong with an eye toward success at the US Open

MEMPHIS -- Phil Mickelson, building momentum for next week's U.S. Open, birdied three of his last four holes Thursday to fire a three-under par 67 at the storm-hit PGA St. Jude Classic.

The 43-year-old American left-hander, a five-time major champion, can complete a career grand slam with a victory in next week's major championship at Pinehurst.

But Mickelson has a history of heartache at the event, having finished second a record six times, the first of those coming at Pinehurst in 1999.

That's why Mickelson, who began his round off the 10th tee, was so happy with his finishing flourish.

“Finishing the round the way I did, it's what I needed to do,” Mickelson said. “It's the kind of momentum I needed going into the U.S. Open.”

American Ben Crane held the clubhouse lead after an opening 63 concluded in milder conditions in the wake of a 3 1/2-hour storm delay that saw the first round suspended by darkness.

Peter Malnati was in the clubhouse on 65 with fellow American Joe Durant and two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen of South Africa on 66 and Mickelson in a pack on 67.

Among 60 players unable to complete the round, the low score belonged to American Billy Horschel, who was five-under with two holes to finish.

Australian Stuart Appleby was on four-under with one hole remaining, with Zach Johnson on the same spot with three holes to play and Jason Bohn also at four-under with four holes to finish.

Mickelson birdied the par-5 16th but closed his first nine holes with a bogey, rolling a putt 10 feet past the cup.

“That was a touch issue and it's something I'll have to work on to get ready for next week,” Mickelson said.

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