TUCSON, Ariz. – Phil Mickelson got into the mud after his tee shot on the 15th hole at Tucson National landed in a pond. He adjusted his feet for balance and hit a 9-iron across the fairway, earning applause from fellow player Fred Couples.
Another 9-iron on par 5 at 4 feet and, after cleaning his shoes, an unlikely birdie.
A Little Mickelson Magic has Lefty on a quest to make history.
Mickelson’s birdie highlighted a 3-under-70 at the Cologuard Classic on Friday, putting him in contention for a third straight win to open his PGA Tour Champions career.
“He was so hot. He was going to come in and play no matter what – how high the mud went up, it didn’t matter,” Mickelson said. “It wasn’t a difficult shot. The ball was good, so it was going to go in.”
Mickelson was 4 shots behind Mike Weir, who had a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Tucson National. Scott Verplank holed from a bunker off the green to birdie the ninth par 4 to close out a 65.
Mickelson is aiming to become the first player to win his first three starts on a PGA Tour approved tour.
Lefty had a relatively stress-free front of nine, shooting 3-low on one of the fields where he became the last fan to win on the PGA Tour 30 years earlier. He made his second shot on the par 5 8th hole off the adjacent No. 3 tee, where Jeff Sluman walked past after starting.
“I hit him here just to say hi,” Mickelson said, eliciting a laugh from Sluman.
Mickelson faced a difficult downhill fall into the dormant Bermuda grass, and hit the ball about 6 feet and made the birdie putt.
The five-time major league champion began struggling in the final nine, starting with a three-put bogey at par 4 11. Mickelson double bogey after hitting out of bounds at par 4 13 and appeared to be in trouble when his tee shot at No. 15 rolled into a pond in the corner of the dogleg.
The pond was 237 yards from the tee, so Mickelson figured there was no way he could hit a 5-iron that far into the wind. Once the ball dripped into the mud, he went straight after her.
“I’m going to have to have Callaway send me another pair of those shoes because they were new, but they’re not good anymore,” he said.
Mickelson followed up with another birdie at par 5 of 17, cutting a 3-iron in the front bunker and nearly holed out. He closed with a pair on the difficult par 4 of 18 to shoot par 37 in the last nine.
Mickelson won the Ozarks National in Missouri last August in his first start after turning 50 and followed up with a victory at the Country Club of Virginia in October. Although he focused primarily on playing on the PGA Tour, he opted to return to Tucson, where he won three times: the first at Tucson National and TPC Starr Pass as a 20-year-old fan at Arizona State.
“I have work to do to get those short irons closer,” Mickelson said. “If I can do that, I can make a lot of birdies here, but this wasn’t the day. I didn’t score very well today. I have to get it because these guys are making a lot of birdies and I have to try to pass them.”
Weir opened with two birdies and followed with seven pairs in a row. The 2003 Masters champion had five birdies over a seven-hole stretch to shoot 5-under-32 in the last nine.
“Overall, it was solid in every way,” he said. “I made a couple of good putts. When you throw 7 low, they are some close, I made some good putts, I played well too.”
Verplank had a six-birdy streak over seven holes after starting in the last nine and followed up eight consecutive pairs with his bunker shot.
“I hadn’t made a lot of bunker shots, but let’s see what happens and I made a good shot,” Verplank said. “But they’re lucky when they come in, so I’ll take it.”
Steve Stricker, who also plays on both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, was among a group tied for sixth place at 69. He has not played a PGA Tour Champions event since September and tied for fourth at the Open. from Phoenix on the PGA Tour this month. He won the 2018 tournament for the first of his five senior titles.