Mickelson sets the pace in Arizona

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IOL pic feb1 golf phil mickelson Associated Press Phil Mickelson chips to the 15th green during the first round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Phoenix, Arizona - Phil Mickelson came up agonisingly short in a spectacular bid to become the sixth player to dip under 60 on the PGA Tour when his birdie putt for a magical 59 horseshoed out at the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona on Thursday.

Having lined up a 25-footer at the par-four ninth, his final hole in the opening round at the TPC Scottsdale, Mickelson watched in anguish as his ball caught the right edge of the cup before rolling around the back of hole and spinning out.

“The last six feet it was right on line and slope, it should have been right in the middle,” Mickelson told Golf Channel after shooting an 11-under-60. “To have that putt on line, I am kind of mortified that it didn't go in.”

The four-times major champion, on a celebratory walk, had pointed his putter in the direction of the ball as it seemed destined to drop into the cup but then clutched his head with his left hand after his hopes of a 59 were so cruelly dashed.

Mickelson had to settle for a share of the course record at the TPC Scottsdale as he grabbed an early four-shot lead in the fifth PGA Tour event of the season.

Fellow Americans Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Palmer and Ted Potter Junior, along with triple major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland in his first start of the year on the US circuit, opened with 64s.

Belgian rookie Nicolas Colsaerts and American Brian Gay, winner of the Humana Challenge at La Quinta 11 days ago, were among a group of six players knotted on 65.

Masters champion Bubba Watson, who has not played since the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii because of flu, was among the day's late starters.

“I'm ecstatic to shoot 60,” twice Phoenix Open champion Mickelson said after piling up 11 birdies with a flawless display of golf in dazzling sunshine. “I am excited and so forth but you don't get chances to shoot 59 very often.

“I could not envision what side of the hole it would have missed on when it was a foot out. But I made a ton of putts today, I hit a lot of great shots and I drove it very well.

“The big thing for me today was I drove the ball effortlessly, put the ball in play fairly reasonably and my misses weren't too bad.”

Winner here in 1996 and 2005, Mickelson birdied seven of his first nine holes to reach the turn in a blistering seven-under 29 amid intensifying thoughts of a possible 59.

“I was thinking 59 back on my 10th hole,” said the 42-year-old fan favourite who studied at the nearby Arizona State University. “When I had that front nine, I was thinking of it (59) the whole time.”

Mickelson, a 40-times champion on the PGA Tour, picked up further shots at the first, third, fourth and seventh before his birdie attempt on the ninth green stunningly failed to fall into the cup.

“I am walking after it and somehow it moves at the end low and caught the lip,” Mickelson said. “And even at that pace, I think it's going to lip in. That one's tough to take because you don't get those chances very often but I'm ecstatic with 60.”

His caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, fell to his knees in disbelief when the birdie putt lipped out at the last.

“He's been with me through good and bad and to share a moment like this with him was cool,” Mickelson said.

The five players who have shot 59s on the PGA Tour are Americans Al Geiberger (1977 Memphis Classic), Chip Beck (1991 Las Vegas Invitational), David Duval (1999 Bob Hope Classic), Paul Goydos (2010 John Deere Classic) and Australian Stuart Appleby (2010 Greenbrier Classic). - Reuters


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