Rust? What rust? Veteran Phil Mickelson shot 60 on the PGA Tour for the third time as Seamus Power opened with a two-over 74 in the Desert Classic in California.
The left-hander (48) got 2019 off to a scintillating start when he flirted with a magical 59 but ended up settling for 60 as he made an eagle and 10 birdies with a spectacular, 12-under-par round at La Quinta Country Club — one of three courses used for the first three rounds of the Pro-Am event.
I’m excited to start another year on tour at the Desert Classic! Although - I’m a bit rusty, I’m also fresh and ready to get started. 😎— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) January 17, 2019
“I really didn't think that this was going to be a day that I was going to go low,” said Mickelson. who had just 21 putts after hitting 14 greens in regulation.
“I came in with very low expectations, 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.”
Playing for the first time this year after telling his Twitter followers yesterday that he was “rusty”, he birdied first second and fifth, eagled the sixth from four feet and birdied the ninth to turn in 30
Chasing his first 59, he then birdied the 10th, 11th and 13th, chipped in at the 14th and birdied the 16th to get to 11-under.
But needing two closing birdies to break the 60 barrier, he missed from 18 feet at the 17th, failed to hole out from the fairway at the 18th for eagle but made an eight footer to shoot 60 on the PGA Tour for the third time.
“Certainly on 16 I was aware that if I make that 4-footer for birdie and then birdie the last two I would shoot 59. I was aware of it, I was giving it all I had and I had a good chance,” Mickelson added.
“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, I should have hit that closer, but still had a good chance to make the putt.
“Made a good birdie on 18. That's not an easy hole for me, that shot the way it sits along the water. I hit a good shot in there, made a nice putt.”
After suffering at the Ryder Cup following a season that started brilliantly before petering out, he was excited to start so well.
“I think that's the big key is that my excitement level of playing and competing and my fresh attitude after having a few months after allowed me to be really focused throughout the round and focus on each shot very clearly and kind of have a good picture of the shot I wanted to hit as well as where I wanted to miss it when I did miss it. And that was very helpful today.”
By day’s end he led by three shots from Web.com Tour graduate Adam Long (31), who shot a nine-under 63 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course.
Australian Curtis Luck lies third after an eight under 64 at La Quinta while Jon Rahm’s 66 at La Quinta was good enough for a share of eighth as world number one Justin Rose birdied his last three holes for a 68 to share 31st.
Power’s poor start to the 2019 season continued at the Stadium Course where he started on the back nine and double-bogeyed the par-three, “island green” 17th after a splashdown right of the green and turned in two-over.
He then bogeyed the first to slip to three-over before picking up a shot at the 561-yard eight following a 44-yard bunker shot to four and a half feet, signing for a two-over 74 that left him tied for 140th
The Stadium Course played the hardest of the three par-72 venues yesterday with the field averaging 70.885 compared to 69.712 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course and 69.42 at La Quinta.
Power his fifth missed cut in a row having started 2019 by missing out by 10 strokes in the Sony Open in Hawaii last week.
The world No 366 has made just one weekend from six starts since the 2018-19 season began, finishing 19th in the Sanderson Farms Championship in late October.
While he was an encouraging eighth for strokes gained off the tee yesterday, he was tied for 132nd for greens hit and heads to La Quinta today and the Nicklaus Course on Saturday before the top 70 and ties contest Sunday’s final round.
Like Lowry in Abu Dhabi yesterday, Mickelson knows that following a low round with another will be tough.
“It's very difficult to start a round and go low like this and then follow it up because the expectations are anything short of a victory is a failure,” he said. “And yet we have three full rounds on some challenging golf courses with a lot of potential birdies. So it's a tough position to be in, but it's one that I thoroughly enjoy.”
He confessed that he could skip his hometown event at Torrey Pines next week and would make up his mid before today’s entry deadline for the Farmers Insurance Open, where Rory McIlroy has entered.
“Quite honestly I just wasn't sure I would be ready for a golf course that long and hard,” he said. “And so I've been kind of waiting to see how my game felt the first couple of days.
“That's one of the hardest courses we play, it's 7,600 yards, fairways are tight, there's a let's of rough and it's, unless I'm playing my absolute best that's not really a great place for me.”
Tiger Woods also has until today to enter for Torrey Pines, where he has won the event six times.