Phil Mickelson narrowly missed out on the first 59 of his career as he made a stunning start to his 2019 campaign at the Desert Classic in California.
Mickelson insisted earlier this week that he felt “rusty” following his long winter break, but he wasted no time in getting back into the groove as he lit up the first day of the tournament with a 12-under 60 – his lowest score in relation to par of his 27-year professional career.
The veteran, who has posted two previous rounds of 60 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, was in sublime form from the moment he teed off at La Quinta following a delayed start due to fog at all three courses in action for the pro-am event.
Mickelson birdied the first two holes and added another at the fifth before a pure second to six feet at the long sixth set up an eagle-three, and a further gain at the ninth took him to the turn in just 30 blows.
The 48-year-old then raised hopes of breaking 60 when he birdied four of the first five holes on the inward half, a run he began with a 30-foot putt on the 10th and concluded with a chip-in from the front of the green at the 14th.
After a par at 15, He kept his hopes of a 59 alive with his ninth birdie of the day at 16, but he mis-read a good chance on the penultimate hole before capping a remarkable round in style at the last, knocking his approach to eight feet and rolling in the chance to claim a three-shot lead over the field.
Mickelson’s opener also made him the only player in PGA Tour history to shoot 60 or lower three times, and he is now in prime position to collect his 50th professional title – 28 years after winning his first while still an amateur at the Northern Telecom Open.
“I really didn’t think that this was going to be a day that I was going to go low,” said Mickelson, who tweeted prior to his round that he was “a bit rusty, but also fresh and ready to get started”.
“I came in with very low expectations, because I haven’t had a lot of time to practice and prepare and I felt like all areas were okay, but you never really know until you get out and you play and compete. And I hit a shot here or there and ended up making a putt and all of a sudden I was quite a few under par.
“The good thing was I made a couple bad swings and I got away with them. This golf course, there’s out of bounds close by, it’s easy to make big mistakes and I was able to get away with the one or two poor swings. And then I putted phenomenal.”
Curtis Luck birdied three of the last four holes at La Quinta to cap a flawless 64 for the young Australian, although he was replaced in second by Adam Long, who was playing in the final group of the day at the Nicklaus Tournament course.
Long bogeyed the first but soon got under the card with an eagle at the fourth, and he then raced up the leaderboard with seven birdies in eight holes around the turn before adding another a 16 and parring in to return an impressive 63.
Adam Hadwin, who fired a 59 at La Quinta in the third round in 2017, picked up five shots over the last six holes at the Stadium Course, including a 60-yard hole-out for eagle at the 16th, as he soared to seven under along with Scotland’s Martin Laird, who reeled off five consecutive birdies mid-round in his 65 at the Nicklaus Tournament course.
Defending champion Jon Rahm recovered from an early bogey at the second with seven birdies in an excellent 66 at La Quinta, while his Ryder Cup partner and world No 1, Justin Rose, salvaged a 68 thanks to birdies on each of the final three holes.
(c) Sky News 2019: Phil Mickelson fires career-best 60 in first round of Desert Classic