NORTON, Mass. – Third in the world rankings. Third in the FedEx Cup standings. But through nine holes, at least, Phil Mickelson is first on the leaderboard at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
No big deal there – except for the way in which he has sprinted to the lead.
Emphatically. Forcefully. With about seven exclamation points beside his name – one for each birdie on his first nine holes.
Using but 10 putts – officially, that is, for statistical purposes – on the back nine at TPC Boston, Mickelson went out in 7-under 28. It was good for a three-stroke lead, but that is virtually meaningless given the early hour of this championship. It was very good, however, in seizing control of the crowd, which has swarmed to watch the top three players in the game right now – Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Mickelson.
They are 1-2-3 in the Official Golf World Ranking and 1-2-3 in the FedEx Cup standings, but Mickelson is clearly the one who has assumed a leadership role thus far. It matched the low nine of the year on the PGA Tour (Charley Hoffman also had 28 at the Travelers). The outward 28 was even better than what Mickelson did in Round 1 at TPC Scottsdale months ago when he opened with a 60 to get into the lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Mickelson went 29-31 that day, tickling the cup at his 17th hole to nearly shoot 59, and the blistering start paved the way to victory.
Good as he was that day, Mickelson seemed in even better form in the first round of this Deutsche Bank Championship. He hit seven of eight fairways going out and eight of nine greens. The only green he missed, at the par-4 13th, Mickelson was inches onto the fringe, a mere 18 feet.
He missed that birdie try, but it was just one of two on which he misfired. He connected from 18 feet at the par-4 10th, 27 feet at the par-3 11th, then took a break from birdies and made par at 12 and 13. And then, he caught fire, converting from 17 feet at 14, 14 feet at 15, 5 feet at the par-3 16th, 11 feet at the par-4 17th, then two-putting from 43 feet at the par-5 18th.
When his second putt from 7 feet slipped home, the large crowd erupted.
Nos. 1 (Woods, out in 33) and 2 (Scott, out in 36) were hardly noticed, hard to believe.
But such is the power of Lefty, when he’s on.