One of my predictions for 2019 is that Phil Mickelson would fall out of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in 25 years. That is looking like a no good, very bad prediction at the moment. Mickelson shot a 12-under 60 on Thursday in Round 1 of the Desert Classic after flirting with a magical 59 for much of the round.
Lefty went out in 30 and then made birdie on four of his first five holes on the back nine at La Quinta Country Club, one of the three courses used for this tournament (and also the easiest of the three). A par-birdie run at No. 15 and No. 16 meant he needed a birdie-birdie close at the final two for his first 59. Mickelson left a birdie putt at the par-4 17th just short before sinking a birdie at No. 18 for the 60.
“It was kind of a lucky day for me,” Mickelson told Golf Channel. “I did not feel sharp heading in. I haven’t really had the intense practice sessions I would like. I felt like all parts were OK, and it just clicked. Some days, you have those days where it just clicks … It was a fun day. I certainly did not expect it to be the case, but I’m also excited to start the year so I was fresh.”
“I didn’t have expectations to go out and score really low,” he added. “I was just kind of staying more present for the simple reason that I didn’t feel like I was firing on all cylinders. Then everything just kind of clicked.”
It was one of just 37 rounds of 60 in PGA Tour history, and Mickelson owns three of them. The other two came at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He went on to win the tournament in both of those years.
A 59 here would have been the fourth since the start of 2017 on the PGA Tour and the second at this tournament. Adam Hadwin shot a 59 here in 2017 (at La Quinta Country Club) en route to a narrow loss to Hudson Swafford. It also would have been the third 59 overall at this tournament. David Duval did the deed back in 1999 to win the event on a Sunday.
Mickelson is hoping his own dalliance with golf’s most famous number leads to a perfect ending, too. It wouldn’t be the first time he lit this tournament on fire. Back in 2002 and 2004, Mickelson shot a pair of 30-under 330s at this tournament when it was still a five-round affair.
“It’s very difficult to start a round and go low like this and then follow it up because the expectations are that anything short of a victory is a failure,” Mickelson said. “We have three full rounds on some challenging courses … It’s a tough position to be in, but one I thoroughly enjoy.”
🚨59 WATCH🚨@PhilMickelson needs to birdie his final two holes to shoot 59!#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/gvAHCUhpJg
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 17, 2019
His 60 was (maybe this is obvious) enough to lead the event after one day of play, which is important for a 48-year-old coming into a season with a lot of question marks. Mickelson, despite winning early in 2018, finished the year without a top 10 in his final 12 events and slipped to No. 34 in the world at the start of this week.
He has a long way to go, but a win here would be Mickelson’s second in the last 12 months and also his second since winning the 2013 Open Championship. If Thursday is an indication of how Lefty is feeling coming into the year, then I’m going to have to go change a few predictions.