By Tony Jimenez
GULLANE (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson was more than mildly irritated by the army of helpers and officials allowed inside the ropes during his opening two-under 69 in the British Open first round at Muirfield on Thursday.
The American left-hander, bidding for a rare back-to-back double after winning the Scottish Open crown at Inverness last week, bemoaned the difference in organizational style between Europe and the United States.
"It's a different culture over here," Mickelson told reporters on another sun-baked day on the east coast of Scotland. "In the States we don't have 90 people inside the ropes, we just have a few.
"But it's always been that way, I knew it coming over. Last week I almost got run over by a cart four or five times on the front nine.
"Today we got run over a couple of times walking down the middle of the fairway by people. It gets annoying after a while."
Four-times major winner Mickelson said he benefited from being among the early starters on a day when the players found it tough to control the ball on the bone-hard fairways and greens.
"I got very lucky to play early today because as the day wore on and we got to the back nine, about a third of every green started to die and became brown," he said after closing within three shots of clubhouse leader Zach Johnson of the U.S.
"The pins were very edgy too, on slopes and whatnot, that the guys that played early had a huge, huge break because even without any wind here it's beyond difficult.
"Playing early gave us a fighting chance. I love the fact I shot under-par because it's a very challenging course. I don't expect anyone to beat the lead from the morning wave, I just don't think it's possible."
Mickelson started in fine style, with birdies at the second and third holes, but then had to battle hard to ward off a blip in his performance.
"I just had a slight mishap for about five holes mid-round and I was able to fight and make pars," he explained.
"I kind of advanced it up to the green, two-putted from 80, 120 feet and got it turned around."
Mickelson dropped a stroke at the eighth. He then hit back with two successive birdies at the 14th and 15th before finishing off with a bogey five at the last.
(Editing by Stephen Wood)