If that is his concept of rusty, it could possibly be one other particular 12 months for Phil Mickelson.
Earlier than heading out to start his 28th 12 months on the PGA Tour, Lefty alerted his 250,000-plus Twitter followers that he was “excited” and “recent” and “able to get began,” but in addition, um, “rusty,” which is a golfer’s delicate method of suggesting that expectations needs to be lowered. Mickelson even informed his taking part in associate, Aaron Smart, the reigning Rookie of the 12 months, as a lot earlier than the spherical: “I’m rusty, so don’t count on a lot.”
However Mickelson has been doing the unbelievable for 3 many years now, and so perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a shock that in his first spherical of 2019, at 48 years of age, with no expectations, he carded his lowest rating to par in his lengthy and embellished Tour profession – a 12-under 60, to take a four-shot lead Thursday on the Desert Traditional.
“It was form of a fortunate day within the sense that I didn’t really feel sharp heading in,” Mickelson stated afterward. “Generally it’s simply a type of days when it clicks.”
Final October, on the season-opening Safeway Open, Mickelson hit it so poorly on the vary that he peppered the boundary fence. It was one among his worst warmups of the 12 months … and but he raced out to a 7-under 65 within the opening spherical. He claimed afterward that it was an “anomaly” and that we shouldn’t be fooled by the nice spherical. “I’m not at my greatest,” he cautioned, and positive sufficient, Lefty tied for 17th in Napa. The one time he’s performed competitively since was his head-to-head duel in opposition to Tiger Woods over Thanksgiving weekend, when he walked away with $9 million.
Mickelson once more performed down his probabilities in his 2019 debut, however it clicked so effectively at La Quinta Nation Membership – the simplest of the three programs within the rotation on the Desert Traditional – that he gave himself an opportunity to interrupt 60 for the primary time in his Tour profession. He went out in 30. Then he birdied Nos. 10, 11, 13 and 14. Then got here the birdie on 16, and abruptly, he realized that he wanted to birdie every of the final two holes to lastly shoot golf’s magic quantity. On 17, he tried to hook a sand wedge into a good pin and left himself 18 toes. He missed low, however nonetheless completed with a flourish: With an opportunity to card the third 60 in his profession, he spun a wedge to 10 toes and buried the putt.
“It was a enjoyable day, however I didn’t count on this to be the case,” he stated. “I knew it wasn’t far off, however I didn’t really feel like I used to be able to go.”
So Mickelson tried to play extra conservatively. Tried to keep away from the massive quantity. It helped, after all, that he wanted solely 21 putts, however it additionally was a reminder: Even on a day and in a match constructed for low scoring, Mickelson can nonetheless take it as deep as anybody.
The problem now could be to again it up.
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If historical past is any indication, the profitable rating this week will probably be someplace within the low-20s underneath par. Meaning Mickelson must publish three extra good rounds on PGA West’s tougher programs, with a recreation which may not but be prepared for primetime.
“It’s very troublesome to go low like this as a result of the expectations are something wanting a victory is a failure,” he stated, although he’s gone on to win after a gap 60 earlier than, on the 2013 Phoenix Open. “It’s a tricky place to be in, however one I totally take pleasure in.”
Over the subsequent three days, we’ll study whether or not Mickelson is really rusty, or just being coy.