ORLANDO, Fla. – Shooting a 58 is usually a harbinger of good golf. That’s the score Phil Mickelson posted Monday at the Plantation Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif.
Mickelson, who’s a member at Plantation, made 12 birdies and an eagle (on the par-5 ninth hole) to break the course record by three shots. Former USC player Nathan Nouskajian shot the previous course record in 2002.
Mickelson had one previous round in the 50s, a 59 at the ‘04 PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
Mickelson arrived at Bay Hill Wednesday night for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and is on pace for his best finish of the year. He was in the top five when he walked off the course after posting an up-and-down 67 early Friday. He’s at 6-under 138.
“Heading into this week I felt very confident with where my game was headed, but I still need to shoot the numbers,” Mickelson said. “Now that I feel that’s coming, I still need to get into contention and be able to perform and it’s important for me to do that heading into Augusta.”
He’s played solidly this year, finishing in the top 25 in four of his five starts, but hasn’t finished better than a tie for eighth at Pebble Beach. Big things were expected of Mickelson after he closed ‘09 by winning the Tour Championship and WGC-HSBC Champions.
Mickelson made birdie on four of his first seven holes Friday to get in the top 10, including one at the reachable par-5 16th. Mickelson tried going for the green in two, but “fatted” a hybrid short of the lake fronting the green, wedged on and made a short birdie putt.
He hit just nine fairways and 12 greens Friday, but has averaged 1.476 putts per GIR. It’s probably no coincidence that he spent four days with Dave Stockton last week. Mickelson called Friday his best putting round of the year.
Among those important putts were two long bogey saves after hitting tee shots in the water – an 11-footer on No. 3 and a 17-footer on the par-5 sixth. Two holes later, Mickelson didn’t need a putter to finish the hole, sinking a pitching-wedge shot from 135 yards to eagle the par-4 eighth hole. Mickelson finished his round on No. 9 with a standard par.
At the beginning of the year, many thought this was a golden opportunity to become No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career, what with his spectacular finish to last year and Tiger Woods’ indefinite absence.
“I haven’t played the way I expect to,” Mickelson said.
His game has been loose. He’s made three or more bogeys in nine of 22 rounds this year. Part of that is undoubtedly caused by the fact that his wife and mother are undergoing breast cancer treatments.
Mickelson will play next week’s Shell Houston Open, then the Masters. It’ll be three consecutive weeks of tournament golf.
“I’ve had an awkward schedule because of the stuff we’ve had at home, and now that I’m playing the next three, it gives me a chance to build some momentum, work with Butch and work into the round, work into the competition,” Mickelson said.