HUMBLE, Texas – His hot start may have fizzled out, but Phil Mickelson still had reason to smile after beating the setting sun to complete his opening round at the Houston Open.
With his afternoon tee time pushed back two hours because of overnight rains, Mickelson started in almost ideal fashion with four birdies over his first five holes, making the turn in 6-under 30 to briefly challenge the course record of 63 at the Golf Club of Houston. A double bogey on the 14th hole derailed those efforts, but Mickelson still managed a 4-under 68 that left him four shots off the overnight lead.
“I didn’t make any big mistakes off the tee,” Mickelson said. “Out here, there’s potential for disaster on every tee shot, and I have found that disaster over the years just about every place here. So I was able to navigate through all the disaster, potential tough holes, and didn’t hurt myself off the tee and my iron play took over.”
Mickelson’s only mistake of the day came after his tee shot on No. 14 found a short-sided bunker. He tried an aggressive play, but his shot didn’t clear the lip of the sand and he watched it roll back into his footprint, leading to a double.
“Certainly, the back nine I didn’t make a birdie and played 2 over, so that’s disappointing,” Mickelson said. “But I’m playing well. I got off to a good start. My goal is not to win it on Thursday, my goal is to try to get in contention over the weekend. So I didn’t hurt myself there, but I didn’t help myself as much as I could have.”
Mickelson has long been a proponent of playing his way into the season’s first major, and he made it clear that while he’s executing the shots he hopes will lead to a second title in Houston, he’s also focused on the fine-tuning the ones he expects to face at Augusta National as he chases a fourth green jacket.
“I’m hitting a lot of the shots that I will use on a few holes next week, which are kind of these low, running slices,” Mickelson said. “There’s a lot of holes where it fits here, and I’m just trying to hit that shot and get comfortable with it, and I hit it well.”