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 a 59 on Thursday in the first round of the Phoenix Open.
“Six feet to go, it was in the centre,” Mickelson said. “Three feet to go, it was in the centre. A foot to go, it was in the centre, 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.
Playing partners Jason Dufner and Rickie Fowler also watched in disbelief when the 25-foot birdie putt lipped out.
“Unlucky,” Dufner said. “He was walking it in.”
“I thought it was in,” Fowler said. “I was pulling for him.”
Mickelson settled for an 11-under 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 ’05, 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. 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.
“I shot it in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. I shot 58 in a practice round. But to do it in a tournament would have been historic for me, something I’d always remember, and I’ll always remember that putt on the last hole probably, too.”
Finishing his round on the front nine, the 42-year-old former Arizona State star birdied the par-3 seventh to reach 11 under.
“Probably the best shot of the day because it’s a tucked little pin over that bunker and I hit a 6-iron to 4 or 5 feet,” Mickelson said. “It was really a good shot from 196 yards.”
He parred the par-4 eighth, leaving an 18-footer a rotation short.
“That putt is so fast down to that right pin because it’s going toward the valley, it’s downhill and down grain,” Mickelson said. “I thought, ‘I can’t leave it short.’ So, I just got it right on line and it was tracking and it pulled up short.”
On the par-4 ninth, he split the fairway with a 325-yard drive and hit a gap wedge left of the pin, with the ball spinning to an immediate stop.
“Hit two great drives on eight and nine and ended up with a pitching wedge and a gap wedge and didn’t hit the best shots, but gave myself great putts at it,” Mickelson said.
He was thinking about breaking 60 after making the turn in 7-under 29, a mark that tied the tournament record for the back nine.
“(When) I birdied three and four, ‘Done deal. I’m going to get this done,'” Mickelson said. “Very disappointed that I wasn’t able to birdie the last couple. … I just knew I could do it, and darn it, it just lipped out.”
Mackay didn’t say a word about a 59, treating it like a baseball pitcher with a no-hitter.
“I’m handing him the putter and just totally getting away from him,” Mackay said.
David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., was the top Canadian after shooting a 67 to sit tied for 27th. Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., fired a 69 and is tied for 58th, while Calgary’s Stephen Ames (72) is tied for 104th.
Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., was even through 13 holes when play was suspended due to darkness, while Ottawa’s Brad Fritsch was 1 over after the first hole.
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. Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa had the lowest round on a major tour, shooting a 12-under 58 to win the 2010 Crowns on the Japan Tour.
Bo Van Pelt had a 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.”
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.
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.
DIVOTS: Mickelson birdied all four par-3 holes, giving him four 2s in a round for the first time in his career. … Mickelson and Zach Johnson are the only PGA Tour players to shoot 60 more than once. Johnson did it in the 2007 Tour Championship and 2009 Texas Open. … Vijay Singh withdrew before the round, a day after saying he used deer-antler spray. The 49-year-old Fijian, facing possible sanctions from the tour, cited a back injury. … Fowler, Dufner and Van Pelt shot 68.