SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson just missed a 59 on Thursday, while Nick Watney’s steady first round ended with the Davis High graduate at 6-under par at the Phoenix Open.
Watney started slow, carding a bogey on No. 2, but bounced right back with a birdie on the next hole. A string of three straight birdies on Nos. 6-8 put him at 3-under at the turn and a birdie on the final hole of the day completed his 65.
Earlier at TPC Scottsdale, a Mickelson putt on his final green 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.
“Six feet to go, it was in the center,” Mickelson said. “Three feet to go, it was in the center. A foot to go, it was in the center, 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.”
Playing partners Jason Dufner and Rickie Fowler also watched in disbelief when the 25-foot birdie putt lipped out.
Mickelson settled for an 11-under 60 matching the tournament record he already shared with Grant Waite and Mark Calcavecchia and putting him five shots ahead of Watney,who is tied for seventh place
“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.
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.”
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.