Phil Mickelson finds form with 65 Thursday at Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

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Phil Mickelson finds form with 65 Thursday at Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

PGA Tour

Phil Mickelson finds form with 65 Thursday at Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

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LAS VEGAS – Looks like Phil Mickelson took care of that fraction.

That’s the minuscule distance Mickelson said his game was from being exactly where he wanted it to be in last week’s Safeway Open, where he missed the cut in his season opener. He used the extra two days of practice afforded him because of the missed cut and got his game, and spirits, at an optimal level.

The proof was in the signature he put to a scorecard that read 6-under-par 65 in Thursday’s first round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin. With his lowest score since he shot 65 in the WGC-Mexico Championship last February, Mickelson vaulted up the leaderboard and his confidence came along for the ride as he looks to end the worst slump of his career.

“I drove it well. Hit a lot of fairways. I did that yesterday in the pro-am, too. I did it at home,” Mickelson said. “I had a great few days at home practicing. Right now, my iron play is back. It was a very weak spot of my game this past year. It’s back to where it has been.”

SHRINERS: UpdatesLeaderboard | Photos | Odds

Mickelson stood two shots out of the lead set by Nick Taylor, who birdied his last hole for a 63. Brian Gay, Sam Ryder, Brian Stuard and Maverick McNealy joined Mickelson at 65, while Brian Harman sits just one shot back after a 64.

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka shot 70 in his season debut.

After an opening bogey 5 due to a poor drive, the new-look Mickelson – he has dropped at least 35 pounds since adopting a weight-loss, health conscious program last summer – looked like the old Lefty. He didn’t post another 5 and made seven birdies, many the result of accurate driving and solid work with his irons. He also made good use of a new putter, as he put a Callaway mallet in his bag this week.

“The first few putts I hit with this putter I noticed a real difference,” he said. “It was more stable. What I found was from 6 feet in I was much more efficient. For me, a good putting round is making every putt inside six feet. A great one is when you make every putt inside 6 feet and you add a few 12-, 15-, 20-footers.

“I didn’t really make any 12-, 15-, 20-footers today, but I made every putt inside 6 or 8 feet and didn’t give away any shots because of that.”

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The five-time major champion didn’t look anything like the man who is suffering through a slump. After winning his 44th PGA Tour title in last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he missed eight cuts in his last 17 starts of the season and finished better than 35th just once in the events he did make it to the weekend. Heading toward his 50th birthday next July, Mickelson has been on a downward trajectory to No. 44 in the world.

But his enthusiasm and confidence remain unmoved.

“I love what I do,” Mickelson said. “I love the guys out here. I love the challenge of beating the guys out here. I love the travel, the cities we go to, the courses we play. And the challenge of playing golf at the highest level brings out the best in me. It forces me to get in the best shape, forces me to work hard and to focus on something positive, improving my game.

“I felt like I just needed to make a subtle fix here or there from last week. I’ve had an awful six months on and off the course, but things are great now and I’m excited to play good golf.”

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