Sunday 17 February 2019

Phil Mickelson equals career best with scintillating round at Desert Classic in California

Phil Mickelson plays his shot from the fifth tee during the first round of the Desert Classic golf tournament at La Quinta Country Club
Phil Mickelson plays his shot from the fifth tee during the first round of the Desert Classic golf tournament at La Quinta Country Club
Shane Lowry. Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

Veteran Phil Mickelson (48) got 2019 off to a scintillating start when he made an eagle and 10 birdies with a spectacular, 12-under-par 60 to grab the early lead in the PGA Tour's Desert Classic in California.

The left-hander birdied the first second and fifth, eagled the sixth from four feet and birdied the ninth to turn in 30 at La Quinta Country Club - one of three courses used for the first three rounds of the Pro-Am event.

Chasing his first 59, he then birdied the 10th, 11th and 13th, chipped in at the 14th and birdied the 16th to get to 11-under.

But needing two closing birdies to break the 60 barrier, he missed from 18 feet at the 17th, failed to hole out from the fairway at the 18th for eagle but made an 10 footer to shoot 60 on the PGA Tour for the third time.

He still led by four strokes in the clubhouse from Australian Curtis Luck, who shot his 64 at La Quinta, as world number one Justin Rose birdied his last three holes for a 68.

Elsewhere, Shane Lowry shrugged off some "horrendous" early mistakes to remain in pole position in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The Clara man (31) knew it would be tough to go low again after opening with a blistering, 10-under par 62. But despite bogeys at the second and third, he remained patient, avoided more mistakes and made four birdies to post a two-under 70 and lead the $7m Rolex Series event by a shot from South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and Richard Sterne on 12-under par at halfway.

"I'm really happy with that," Lowry said after following a birdie three at the fifth with twos at the seventh, 12th and 15th, the last two of which were from eight inches and three feet respectively.

"I knew today was going to be a bit of a weird day after shooting such a low score yesterday. I just tried to go out and play like I played.

"To be honest, right from the start, I really feel like I played pretty well today. I think I gave myself a lot of chances.

"Some of the shots early on were pretty horrendous. I battled back and hit some really nice shots out there and hit some in close and made some birdies. I was happy with myself."

Lowry admitted that he failed to beat Paul Dunne even once during their recent 12-day practice stint in Dubai but still felt good about his game. As it turned out, Dunne shot a second consecutive 73 to miss the three-under-par cut by five strokes as defending champion Tommy Fleetwood squeaked in thanks to a closing eight-footer.

While Lowry missed four clear birdie chances inside 10 feet (including the last), hit just six fairways and failed to birdie any of the par-fives, his iron play was impressive.

"I'm pretty happy where my game is at, and I'm looking forward to the weekend," Lowry said.

He knows a first win for three-and-a-half years would catapult him from 75th to around 40th in the world but remains focused on chiselling out scores.

"That's the way I am going to try and play this year," he said of his pre-season chat with coach Neil Manchip.

"It just so happened that I shot a 10-under yesterday.

"I have to just keep going, keep playing golf and try and shoot as good a score as I can."

With former Open champion Oosthuizen and compatriot Sterne firing 68s to lurk just one stroke behind and the evergreen Lee Westwood (45) also shooting four-under to lie two shots off the pace.

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Sky Sports, 8.0am

Desert Challenge

Sky Sports, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

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