Phil Mickelson backs up pre-tournament bluster with an opening 65 as busy fall schedule continues

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At a point on the calendar when many of golf’s biggest names are taking some down time and playing little to no golf, Phil Mickelson is having his busiest fall in years.

Last week, he played in the Safeway Open, a tournament he’s competed in the previous three seasons. This week it’s the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, an event he hasn’t teed it up in since 2005. That’s only the beginning.

Before shooting of his opening-round 65 at TPC Summerlin on Thursday, Mickelson said he also will be competing at the CJ Cup in South Korea in two weeks. He added that there’s a “good chance” he will be at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China two weeks after that. The last time Mickelson played the WGC-HSBC was two years ago. Before that, you’d have to go back to 2013 when he also played in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia the week before.

Why so much golf at a time of the year when Lefty tends to cut back on his schedule? Perhaps he’s feeling revitalized from his recent health kick in which he’s shed at least 20 pounds. Or maybe something bigger is at play.

Finishing 16th in the Presidents Cup standings when the eight automatic spots were finalized in August, Mickelson needs a captain’s pick to be on this year’s U.S. team set to compete at Royal Melbourne in December. The 49-year-old has played on every Presidents Cup team since the event’s creation in 1994 (and every U.S. Ryder Cup team since 2005, too) but faces stiff competition for one of those four spots with Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and captain Tiger Woods having all finished ahead of him in the standings.

“You know, we’ve been in contact, especially over the last few years,” Mickelson said on Wednesday when asked if he’d talked to Woods about this year’s Presidents Cup. “But nothing that I care to share.”

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Are all these starts a way of keeping sharp, and a sign that Woods will use one of his picks on Mickelson when he announces them in early November? Who knows. Given Mickelson’s year, a few good finishes likely are needed to help bolster the five-time major winner’s case.

Though Mickelson had a win and a runner-up early in 2019 he has struggled mightily since. Following his victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, he has just one finish in the top 35 and has missed the cut eight times in his last 17 starts, including four of five at one point over the summer.

Yet Mickelson looked far more like his Hall of Fame self on Thursday in Vegas. After a bogey on his first hole, he played the rest of the round in seven under. His 65 was his best score since shooting a 65 in the second round of the WGC-Mexico Championship in March.

Indeed,, Mickelson felt good about where his game was headed, even after having missed the cut last week in Napa.

“It was a lot closer than it looked,” Mickelson said. “I played the eight par 5s in four over; usually I play them four- or five-under. If I do that, I’m in third place after two rounds.

“It’s not as big a fix. Most of the areas were OK. Just a little subtle thing here or there.”

And perhaps a subtle hint of where Mickelson will be spending his December.


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