Before his first competitive round of 2019, Phil Mickelson tweeted that he felt a bit rusty. If he did, it certainly didn't show.
In the opening round of the Desert Classic, Lefty made an eagle, 10 birdies and no bogeys en route to a 12-under round of 60. It's his lowest score on the PGA Tour since the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he carded an 11-under 60 after lipping out a putt for 59 on the 18th, and Thursday's round is his lowest in relation to par of his entire career.
He finished the day with a three-shot lead over Adam Long. Mickelson's round did not set the course record, as Adam Hadwin shot 59 on the same track two years ago.
SCORES: Desert Classic Leaderboard
Starting on the first hole of La Quinta Country Club, considered the easiest of the three courses that combine to host the Desert Classic, Mickelson got his round off to an ideal start by finding the fairway and hitting a wedge to a few feet. It was a sign of things to come—he'd add birdies at 2 4, an eagle at the par-5 6th and another birdie at 9 to turn in six-under 30.
The momentum continued on the back nine. He birdied 10, 11, 13, 14 and 16 to move to 11 under for the round, meaning he'd need to birdie the last two to shoot golf's magic number of 59.
He had about a 20-footer for birdie on the 17th but his putt slid by on the low side, and the 48-year-old looked visibly dejected knowing he'd have to hole out for eagle on 18 to make history. He gave it a good effort on the finishing hole, flying his iron shot perfectly pin high but landing it about eight feet left of the flag. Mickelson poured the birdie effort right into the heart of the cup and gave almost no reaction.
The last time Mickelson teed it up in a competitive setting was on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when he beat Tiger Woods for $9 million in their head-to-head match in Las Vegas. He said that day that he was pleased about driving the ball "like a stallion," and that he could play some terrific golf in the coming season if he could strike it like that. He did that on Thursday, hitting 14 of 18 greens and giving himself so many good looks at birdie. He needed just 21 putts.
"I putted phenomenal," Mickelson said after the round.
Do keep in mind that La Quinta played as the easiest par-72 course on the entire PGA Tour last season. Still, shooting 61 in the first round of the year is an ideal start to the campaign, and Mickelson's ball striking performance will have the 48-year-old excited about the year ahead.