AUGUSTA, Ga. — One must wonder whether Phil Mickelson even saw his 5-under 67 coming on Thursday in Round 1 of the 2019 Masters. He was asked Tuesday if he was driving it “fairly straight right now.” Here’s how he answered that question.
“I don’t know,” said Mickelson, “but I’m hitting it far and that’s all I care about right now.”
Mickelson came into this Masters without a top-35 finish since February and just one round in the 60s at Augusta National in his last three appearances. While his overall resume here is nearly peerless, the dirty little secret for this 48-year-old is that his form and his recent history have not been great.
On Tuesday, though, Lefty spoke of what it means to step on the grounds at this place, and he waxed poetic about how everyone is the best version of themselves at this club. It sounds crazy and ridiculous … until it starts working. And in Round 1, that’s what happened. Mickelson opened with a round in the 60s at this tournament for the first time since … 2010, when he shot 67 in Round 1 and went on to win the tournament.
He started innocuously enough as he played the first 11 holes in even par and stood on the 12th tee box well back of the leaders. Then he went on a torrid stretch that began with a birdie at the par-3 12th hole and ended with one of the just five birdies at the closing hole at Augusta National on Thursday.
In between all that there were two easy birdies at the 13th and 15th and a near-ace at the par-3 16th. It all added up to the third-best round of the day asby one stroke going into Friday’s second round.
“I was just hoping to shoot in the 60s,” said Mickelson. “I thought there were some 66s out there. The greens are softer than they’ve ever been, and they’re not as fast as they normally are. So today was a day to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’ll get firmer and faster as the week goes on. But you could get after the pins and you could putt aggressively.”
Mickelson didn’t even have to hit it all that far to shoot his score either. He averaged a good-not-great 305 yards off the tee, but he made the second-most birdies on the day with seven (only trailing DeChambeau’s nine) and saved himself from what could have been rally-killing double bogeys at both No. 10 and No. 11.
“It looked like, after bogeying 10 and 11 … that would kill some momentum,” said Mickelson. “It was the other way around because I made two great bogeys that should have and could have been doubles.”
There is a lot at stake for Mickelson this week. Maybe not in your eyes but certainly in his. A win here would mean a fourth green jacket, which would tie him with Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer. Only Jack Nicklaus would have more. He would also become the oldest major winner of all-time and have won Pebble Beach and Augusta National in a tidy three-month stretch.
All of this is many, many holes away, of course, and there’s plenty of time for it to go sideways (with Mickelson, one hole is plenty of time).
But for now. through these first 18 holes, Mickelson is rolling time back at a place where time often seems to stand still and reminding everyone that while young stars like Koepka, DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson are the horses to beat, Lefty still has some magic left. And there’s no place to which he would rather give it.