LOS ANGELES – Five-time major championship winner Phil Mickelson flirted with a 59 in the opening round of the US PGA Tour’s Desert Classic on Thursday, settling for the third round of 60 in his storied career.
Mickelson rolled in 10 birdies and an eagle en route to a 12-under 60 to become the first player in PGA Tour history to post three scores of 60 or better.
His other rounds of 60 came at the par-71 Phoenix Open where he went on to win the both titles.
“It was kind of a lucky day for me in the sense that I did not feel sharp heading in,” said Mickelson, who is in his 28th year on the PGA Tour.
“I haven’t really had the intense practice sessions that I would like, but I felt that all parts were okay, and it just clicked.
“Sometimes you have days where it just clicks. Bad shots that I hit, I got away with it. It was a fun day, but I certainly did not expect this to be the case.”
The 48-year-old Mickelson took advantage of the easier La Quinta course to build a three-shot lead over second place Adam Long – and record the lowest round in relation to par in his career.
Long fired a nine-under 63, while Australia’s Curtis Luck is in third with a 64. Trey Mullinax, Adam Hadwin, Wyndham Clark and Martin Laird all shot 65 and are tied for fourth.
The only other players to shoot more than one round of 60 or better are Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson. Furyk owns the Tour record with a 58.
Canada’s Hadwin shot a 59 on the La Quinta course two years ago.
“I was giving it all I had, and I had a good chance,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson sank birdies on his first two holes and then made the turn in six-under 30. After the turn, Mickelson tallied five birdies in his next seven holes.
He needed back-to-back birdies on his final two holes to shoot the elusive 59, but could only manage a par on the par-four 17th.
He closed with another birdie on the par-four 18 to record the 37th all-time round of 60 on the Tour. It was just his 21st putt of the round, and he had just nine putts on the back nine.
Mickelson said he first started thinking about a 59 as he walked off the 16th green.
But his approach shot on 17, with a sand wedge, left him with a longer putt than he had hoped for.
“On 17 I hit a nice tee shot in a good spot to kind of hook a sand wedge into that back right pin for me. And I hit a good shot, I had 18 feet though,” he said.
“I should have hit that closer, but still had a good chance to make the putt.”
World No 1 Justin Rose shot a four-under 68 on the more difficult Stadium Course. Rose is the first top-ranked player to take part in the event.
“Once I got going I felt like I played really well,” said Rose. “Birdieing my last three to get it to four-under kind of made me feel good.
“I drove the ball fantastically well today and hit a lot of shots pin high with my irons.”
Defending champion Jon Rahm is in a large group of 10 players at 66, six shots adrift of Mickelson.
The Desert Classic is a Pro-Am event, with players rotating among La Quinta, the Nicklaus Tournament Course and the Stadium Course over the first three rounds. Sunday’s final day is played at the Stadium Course.AFP