Leave it to Phil Mickelson to zig when everyone expects him to zag.
Lefty — who has not had the best 2019, especially since winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February — carded a 6-under 65 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Thursday in Round 1. It was his first appearance at the event at TPC at Summerlin in 15 years.
Mickelson made seven birdies and just one bogey (on his first hole of the day) as he mixed it up with the leaders in Las Vegas early on Thursday. The scary part here is that he didn’t even putt that well. Instead, he did it from tee to green where he gained nearly four strokes on the field.
All of this comes just a week after he missed the cut at his first event of the season, the Safeway Open.
“I missed the cut by two,” Mickelson said of his 75-69 outing last week in Napa. “It was a lot closer than it looked. I played the eight par 5s in 4 over; usually I play them 4 or 5 under. If I do that, I’m in third place after two rounds. It’s not as big a fix. Most of the areas were OK. Just a little subtle thing here or there.”
Whatever those subtle things were, Mickelson figured them out. He noted his poor play on par 5s last week (where he was 4 over). He played the par 5s on Thursday in a perfect 3 under.
“After the bogey on the first hole, I played some really good golf,” Mickelson said. “I kept the ball in play and hit a lot of fairways. Right now, my iron play is really good, and so if I continue to give myself chances from the fairways I’m going to hit it close enough to make birdies.
“Excited to play some good golf again.”
Since that Pebble Beach win in February, Mickelson has missed seven cuts, posted zero top 10s and maintained a scoring average hovering north of 72. All the viral Twitter fodder in the world — which he has also provided! — can’t erase those numbers.
The 65 ties the best round he’s shot since winning Pebble. He also shot a 65 at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
Mickelson hasn’t played this tournament since 2004, but after Thursday’s round maybe it’s time to start putting it on his schedule into the future. There’s obviously a lot of golf left to be played this week, and Lefty could still miss the cut. But it would be fitting if Mickelson — the preeminent on-course gambler of his generation — after eight months of wandering in the desert, regained his game in Las Vegas.