SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson pointed his putter at the cup and started to walk toward the hole, ready to celebrate golf’s magic number.
Right at the end, though, the ball caught the right edge of the cup, curled 180 degrees to the other side of the hole and stayed out. A fraction of inch turned cheers to gasps and cost him 59 on Thursday in the first round of the Phoenix Open.
“Six feet to go, it was in the center,” Mickelson said. “Three feet to go, it was in the center. A foot to go, it was in the center, and even as it’s approaching the hole, I couldn’t envision which side of the hole it could possibly miss on, and it ended up somehow just dying off at the end, catching the lip.”
His caddie, Jim Mackay, fell to his knees and stayed there several seconds.
“He could not have hit a better putt,” Mackay said.
Mickelson settled for
11-under-par 60 at TPC Scottsdale, matching the tournament record he already shared with Grant Waite and Mark Calcavecchia.
“Well, 60 is awesome,” Mickelson said. “Last time I shot 60 here in 2005, I birdied like the last three or four holes just to do that, and I was ecstatic, and I’m ecstatic to shoot 60.
“But there’s a big difference between 60 and 59,” he said. “Not that big between 60 and 61, there really isn’t. But there’s a big barrier, a Berlin Wall barrier, between 59 and 60.”
Seeking his third victory in the event, Mickelson had a four-stroke lead over Ryan Palmer, Brandt Snedeker, Padraig Harrington, Ted Potter Jr. and Jeff Maggert when play was suspended because of darkness in the round that started an hour late because of frost.
Five players have shot 59 in official PGA Tour events. Al Geiberger did it in the 1977 Memphis Classic, Chip Beck in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, David Duval in the 1999 Bob Hope Invitational, Paul Goydos in the 2010 John Deere Classic and Stuart Appleby in the 2010 Greenbrier Classic.
Ryo Ishikawa had the lowest round on a major tour, shooting 12-under 58 to win the 2010 Crowns on the Japan Tour.
Bo Van Pelt had 59 in the pro-am Wednesday at TPC Scottsdale, a round that Mickelson watched closely from the group behind.
“He hit a shot on 17, he was 9 under at the time, and he hit a drive that hit the pin and ended up a foot,” Mickelson said. “It should have gone in. And I kind of got into him, I said, ‘Look, I don’t care when it is, get a 3, make a 3 on the last hole because you don’t get a chance to shoot 59.’ Here I am the next day making a 4.”
In perfect conditions on the course softened by weekend rain, Mickelson birdied the first four holes, then parred No. 14 and missed a 5-foot birdie try on the par-5 15th.
“That was the one putt that I hit poorly,” Mickelson said. “I limped it up to the hole. You can’t putt like that. You’ve got to putt aggressively. It almost spurred me on to putt a little more aggressive.”
He rebounded on the par-3 16th, making an 18-footer with a big right-to-left break to roars from the large crowd on the stadium hole.
“I just got it dialed in with the right speed,” Mickelson said.
He birdied the next three holes and the par-5 third and par-3 fourth, showing his prowess off the tee with the new Callaway driver he got Tuesday.
“This driver spins so low that I can have more loft on the club, making it easier to hit,” Mickelson said. “It really could be a revolutionary club for me.”
Mickelson struggled in his first two events of the season – tying for 37th at La Quinta and 51st at Torrey Pines – and caused a sensation by talking about tax increases.
“It was a matter of time before he started getting something going,” Mackay said.