KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Don’t count Lefty out of a major, no matter how badly he started the PGA Championship.
Phil Mickelson, the 50-year-old five-time major champion, looked headed for a missed cut after opening with four bogeys in his first six holes Thursday.
But like so many other times in his stellar career, Mickelson called on his impeccable shot-making to climb back up the leaderboard and into contention after one round at the Ocean Course with a 2-under 70 that left three shots off the lead.
“I’m very pleased to be under par, especially after a rough start,” Mickelson said.
Things have been plenty rough for Mickelson lately. He came into Kiawah Island with little momentum — his best finish on the PGA Tour this season was a tie for 21st at the Masters last month — and it showed from the start. He missed the fairway with his opening drive and put the approach in a waste bunker to drop a stroke.
After a birdie on No. 3, Mickelson’s struggles intensified as he missed the green on the next three holes and failed on par putts within 20 feet on each to fall to 3-over.
The comeback, though, started on the par-5 seventh with a 4-foot birdie, then took off after Mickelson made the turn.
He drove into a waste area on the 10th hole before landing his approach inside 5 feet for a birdie. A two-putt birdie from 60 feet on the par-5 11th continued his trend toward the top.
Mickelson showed his classic deft touch for his final two birdies, hitting approach shots within 6 feet on the 15th and 16th (the latter from a waste area) and making the putts to reach 2-under.
Mickelson’s ability to scramble on the closing holes kept him in the mix. He stuck a wedge inside 30 inches from a difficult spot in a waste bunker to save par on the gnarly, par-3 17th. He followed that with a final par save when his second shot rolled off the right side of the green and he landed it 3 feet away.
It’s a positive stretch that Mickelson knows will take a lot of mental strength to continue.
He last won on the PGA Tour at Pebble Beach in 2019, although he won twice on the PGA Tour Champions after he turned 50 in 2020.
Lefty’s last major was the British Open in 2013. A year later, he was second in the PGA Championship, the last time he was truly in contention at the tournament he won 16 years ago at Baltusrol.
He believes he’s made progress at staying close to players half his age with power to spare and considerable talent around the green.
“The guys out here are so good,” he said. “They are so talented. The course setups are very penalizing that you’ve got got be focused every shot and if I lose my focus on any holes out of 72, the field here is going to eat me up.”
Soon after his round ended, Mickelson headed to the range to hit drivers and prep for a morning tee time and not take himself out of contention by losing focus.
“I’m enjoying the challenge and I’m playing well enough to do it,” he said. “But I just need to be present on every shot.”
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