Mickelson takes one-shot lead at Riviera

Phil Mickelson smiles after his birdie on the seventh hole during the first round of the Northern Trust Open.

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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Four days after his big win at Pebble Beach, Phil Mickelson keeps right on rolling.

Mickelson hit driver off the deck from just inside 300 yards on the par-5 11th that led to a two-putt birdie, and he ended a gorgeous afternoon Thursday at Riviera Country Club by chipping in from 35 feet for birdie. That gave him a 5-under 66 and a one-shot lead in the Northern Trust Open.

Dating to the back nine of his second round at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Mickelson has made birdie or eagle on one-third of the holes he has played. And his streak of consecutive holes without a bogey finally ended at 49 on the par-3 16th.

No matter. He looked good with the putter and with his low, penetrating tee shots that he kept below the tree line on a windy day that prevented low scoring.

J.B. Holmes, in his fourth tournament since returning from brain surgery in September, played his final six holes without a par. His round ended with a 315-yard tee shot – a big drive in the cool air of Southern California in February – and an approach to 8 feet for birdie at No. 9, the second-toughest hole at Riviera.

That gave him a 4-under 67. He was tied with Hunter Mahan, whose 35-foot birdie at No. 5 sent him on a string of four straight birdies.

They all played in the afternoon, when the wind began to die late in the day.

Jonathan Byrd, who faced the chilly, blustery conditions of the morning, had a 68. He was joined by Carl Pettersson.

The first round was suspended by darkness with 30 players yet to finish, a typical occurrence at this tournament with 144-man field and limited daylight.

Mickelson is coming off an 8-under 64 in the final round at Pebble Beach, where he rallied from a six-shot deficit – and beat playing partner Tiger Woods by 11 shots – to change the outlook on his West Coast Swing. Riviera is his final tournament before he takes a week off for the WGC-Accenture Match Play and then the tour moves to Florida. But even on a different golf course, not much has changed for Mickelson.

He holed a 30-foot birdie putt on the long par-3 fourth hole, and then really got going on the back nine.

After a tough pitch to 12 feet that led to birdie on the 10th, Mickelson had 297 yards to the hole on the 11th and decided to hit driver, a shot he had not tried in months.

It came off perfectly and climbed onto the front edge of the green, making Mickelson the only player to have an eagle putt on the 587-yard hole, which played directly into the wind. The pin was all the way back, away from a large hump in the putting surface, which gave Mickelson the green light.

His eagle putt from 60 feet died next to the hole.

“I didn’t think it was going to necessarily be reachable into that wind, but I was able to hit a low drive off the tee that scooted along the ground, and I felt like if I could hit one more of those with a driver, I could get right up by the green,” Mickelson said. “I felt like it was worth the risk to try to scoop one up.”

The chip-in from behind the 18th was a bonus.

Mickelson made his lone bogey when his chip behind the 16th green ran 7 feet past the cup, and he missed the putt. On the 17th, his wedge rolled back to 7 feet for birdie, but the putt slid by on the left.

He faced another quick chip on the 18th, but it dropped in with perfect speed.

“It wasn’t one I was really trying to make,” he said. “It was quick, it was downhill, and I had to play about 4 or 5 feet of break, so it’s not one that you’re trying to get aggressive with. I was trying to get good speed and try to let it feed with the break, and I got fortunate, obviously, that it went in.”

Holmes was the first player to reach 5 under, and that’s where his fun began – consecutive bogeys when he failed to get up-and-down from just short of the green; a tap-in birdie at the par-3 sixth, with the pin below the bunker in the middle of the green; an 18-foot birdie on the seventh, a three-putt double bogey on the eighth and the birdie at the end.

He has struggled with a slight loss of power since brain surgery in September, and he even topped a shot in Phoenix a few weeks ago. But it’s all starting to come together.

“I feel like each week my swing has definitely gotten a little bit better and improved a little bit,” Holmes said. “My swing speed has slowly come back a little bit being out here and playing this much.”

Byrd woke up Thursday morning to hear the wind whipping at his rental house on the Pacific bluffs. The last thing he wanted to do was play golf at Riviera, but it worked out well for him. He made five birdies in the toughest of conditions. The average score from the morning wave was 73.7.

“We’re staying up on a bluff about five miles away,” he said. “I got out of bed this morning and walked outside, and I was pretty anxious about playing this golf course today because it was howling on top of that bluff. And it whipped all day. My approach was just to keep it in play and have a pretty conservative game plan.”

The afternoon players got a slight break, though the wind remained a factor.

“The last seven holes the wind started to die down progressively, and by the end, it couldn’t be playing any nicer or any better,” Mahan said. “So I was excited to come make some birdies late.”

DIVOTS: UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, who didn’t miss a cut on the PGA Tour last year, opened with a 78. The Northern Trust Open also gave an exemption to Texas freshman Jordan Spieth, who had a 76. ... Tim Clark, playing for the first time since The Players Championship because of elbow surgery, was 4 over through 16 holes.

– Associated Press

• • •

Tour Tracker

Picking up where he left off

8:35 p.m.

Phil Mickelson birdies No. 18 to take the outright lead at 5 under, one shot ahead of J.B. Holmes and Hunter Mahan as Round 1 nears its close.

Matt Kuchar, Stewart Cink and Jonathan Byrd are all two shots back.

• • •

Rough Riviera

8:20 p.m.

The course is playing mighty tough, with only 24 players in red numbers at this point, with only a handful of players left on the course as they get close to wrapping up action for Round 1.

Fresh off a top-15 performance at Pebble Beach, Bob Estes shot a 9-over 80 on Thursday to sit in dead last.

• • •

A new co-leader

8:16 p.m.

Hunter Mahan is playing his final hole of the day and has moved into a tie with Phil Mickelson and J.B. Holmes atop the Northern Trust leaderboard, with all three players sitting at 4 under on a difficult day at Riviera. Holmes is now in the clubhouse after picking up a birdie at No. 9 (his final hole of the day).

A name that we haven't seen near the top of a leaderboard is making a late run - with former British Open champion Stewart Cink now a shot off the lead at 3 under.

• • •

Mickelson picks up first bogey

8 p.m.

Phil Mickelson is back in the solo lead, but only because J.B. Holmes picked up a double-bogey at No. 8 (his 17th hole of the day). But instead of a two-shot swing, Mickelson also drops a shot with a bogey at No. 16. Mickelson is at 4 under.

• • •

Holmes making his move

7:40 p.m.

J.B. Holmes has moved back to 5 under with a birdie at No. 7 (his 16th hole of the day). He is tied with Phil Mickelson atop the leaderboard, while Tommy Gainey has moved to within two shots with a birdie at No. 7 as well.

• • •

Mickelson, Holmes trying to pull away

7:25 p.m.

J.B. Holmes - only months removed from brain surgery - picked up a birdie at No. 6 (his 15th hole of the day) to move back to 4 under, while Phil Mickelson also rolled in a birdie at No. 13 to move to 5 under.

• • •

Mickelson now alone atop leaderboard

7:17 p.m.

Phil Mickelson is still bogey-free on Thursday's round and now holds a one-shot lead over J.B. Holmes, Jonathan Byrd, Carl Pettersen and Rory Sabbatini.

Mickelson was also bogey-free during his spectacular final round at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

• • •

Lefty grabs a share of the lead

7:05 p.m.

Phil Mickelson made a birdie at No. 11 at Riviera to join J.B. Holmes at the top of the Northern Trust Open leaderboard.

Holmes, who was sitting at 5 under, made a bogey at the par-3 fourth, failing to convert a par putt from 12 feet.

• • •

Back-to-back for Phil?

6:33 p.m.

Phil Mickelson is fresh off a win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and he just might be in line for another victory this week at Riviera.

Phil has birdied Nos. 1, 4 and 10 and he stands at 3-under and tied for second place.

• • •

Holmes continues to roll

6:12 p.m.

J.B. Holmes made birdie at No. 1 (his 10th hole of the day) to move to 5 under par.

Holmes now has a two-shot lead over Jonathan Byrd and Carl Pettersson. Byrd is in the clubhouse at 3-under 68, while Pettersson is 3-under through his first eight.

• • •

Stanley down early

5:52 p.m.

It's been a horrible start to the Northern Trust Open for Phoenix winner Kyle Stanley, who sits at 5 over after his first eight holes.

After a birdie at No. 3, Stanley made bogeys at Nos. 4, 5 and 6 and then he took a triple bogey at the par-4 eighth.

• • •

Cink back in form?

5:21 p.m.

Stewart Cink has been seemingly M.I.A. since his win at the 2009 British Open. He's fallen off to No. 142 in the world and in Phoenix he shot an unthinkable 83 in the opening round before withdrawing.

Cink is T-2 at the Northern Trust Open, however, making birdies at three of his first four holes. Starting on the back nine, he's now 3 under through his first six holes.

• • •

J.B. Holmes comes out firing

4:35 p.m.

J.B. Holmes has birdied four of his first five holes at Riviera, taking the lead in the process.

Holmes, who needed brain surgery in the offseason, made his return to the PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he missed the cut.

Starting on the back nine, Holmes has birdied Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 14 to start his day.

• • •

Byrd takes clubhouse lead

3:47 p.m.

Jonathan Byrd bogeyed the par-4 18th, but he still turned in a 3-under 68 to give himself the clubhouse lead during Round 1.

Byrd made five birdies and two bogeys in his opening round. He's currently tied with Canadian David Hearn at 3 under.

Also in the clubhouse are K.J. Choi and Brendan Steele, who each opened with 2-under 69.

• • •

Donald opens with 1-under 70

3:24 p.m.

Luke Donald wrapped up his first round of the 2012 PGA Tour season, firing a 1-under 70 at Riviera. Donald is tied for sixth, two shots behind leaders David Hearn and Jonathan Byrd.

Also playing in Donald's group was Nick Watney and Adam Scott, who both finished at 2-over 73. Watney was tied for the early lead, but made five bogeys from holes 2 to 9 to limp across the finish line.

• • •

College stars stumble out of gate

3:02 p.m.

Top-ranked college player Jordan Spieth of Texas and last year's amateur star Patrick Cantlay of UCLA are having some struggles with Riviera, the site of the 2012 NCAA Championship.

Both Spieth and Cantlay are 4 over to start their opening rounds. Spieth made a double and two bogeys in his opening nine, while Cantlay, starting on the back nine, birdied the 11th, but made three bogeys and a double in finishing his first nine holes.

Cantlay made the cut in all five of his PGA Tour starts in 2011, finishing in the top 25 in four of them.

Spieth was in the hunt at the 2011 Byron Nelson Championship through 54 holes for the second consecutive year, but closed in 77 to finish T-32.

• • •

Scott back in action, starting slow

2:38 p.m.

Adam Scott is back on the PGA Tour after a five-week layoff during which he had his tonsils taken out.

It's been a slow start for Scott, who is playing with Nick Watney and Luke Donald. Starting on the back nine, Scott made a double bogey at No. 16, in addition to bogeys at No. 12 and 2. He's also had birdies at Nos. 13 and 17, but he sits at 2 over par.

• • •

Bubba out front

2:00 p.m.

Bubba Watson made birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 to move to 4 under and take a two-shot lead over Jim Furyk, David Hearn and Jonathan Byrd, who made his first bogey of the day at No. 11.

Watson. who started on the back nine, made a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 2 and stuck his approach shot to 2 feet at No. 3 for the easy birdie.

Bubba is bogey-free on the day, also making birdies at Nos. 13 and 17.

• • •

Fowler struggling early

1:46 p.m.

After missing the cut at last week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Rickie Fowler is off to a rough start in L.A., making three bogeys and one birdie in his first 12 holes to sit at 2 over. He's tied for 42nd among the 72 players that have teed off. For what it's worth, Fowler didn't miss consecutive cuts in 2011.

Also 2 over is Anthony Kim, who is yet to make a cut in three starts this year.

• • •

Donald's Riviera hiccup

1:25 p.m.

One of the often-forgotten facts about Luke Donald's stellar 2011 season was how it began.

Like this year, Donald made his 2011 PGA Tour debut at Riviera, but missed the cut after a second-round 79. It was one of only two missed cuts (he also missed the weekend at the British Open) for Donald, who went on to record 14 top 10s in 19 starts.

Donald is looking to make up for that this year and in the early going, he sits T-7 at 1 under par. Starting on the back, he bogeyed No. 14, but has made birdies at Nos. 16 and 1 to get under par.

• • •

Byrd ballstriking early

12:48 p.m.

At a place known as Hogan's Alley, it's no surprise to see a ballstriker like Jonathan Byrd at the top of the leaderboard. Byrd made birdies at Nos. 1, 3 and 7 at Riviera to take an early lead over Nick Watney, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and David Hearn (2 under).

All of Byrd's birdies have come on putts of 6 feet or less, including his birdie at No. 7, where he put his approach to 1 foot, 10 inches.

• • •

Rough start for Baddeley

12:26 p.m. EST

It's been a rough start for defending champion Aaron Baddeley, who played the first three holes of his title defense in 3 over. Baddeley made bogey at the short par-4 10th and made a double at No. 12, hitting his tee shot just 206 yards. He failed to hit the green in three shots and took a six.

Since, Baddeley has made a birdie at No. 16 to get back to 2 over par.

• • •

Tournament Preview

• Riviera favorite Fred Couples reflected on the Masters and Presidents Cup pre-tournament. Story

• Making his 2012 PGA Tour debut, Sergio Garcia is showing a new sense of maturity and confidence. Story

• Fantasy Picks: The Golfweek experts weigh-in on who they like this week at Riviera. Picks

Tournament odds: Vegas likes Phil Mickelson's chances of going back-to-back. Odds

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