Phil Mickelson made his PGA Tour Champions debut on Monday at the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National and made one thing perfectly clear: he could own this tour if he felt like playing it on a full-time basis.
Eliminated from the FedEx Cup Playoffs after missing out on the weekend at the Northern Trust, Mickelson, who turned 50 back in June, teed it up on the senior circuit for the first time on Monday and fired a 10-under round of 61 to take a one-shot lead in the 54-hole event that will end on Wednesday.
Why is Phil Mickelson playing the PGA Tour Champions?
So why exactly did Phil Mickelson pick this week to make his PGA Tour Champions debut? Well, the answer is quite simple. As mentioned above, the five-time major champion was eliminated from the FedEx Cup Playoffs after missing the cut by three strokes at the Northern Trust. He came into the week at No. 67 in the FedEx Cup standings and likely would have qualified for the BMW Championship if he had made the cut. But a second-round 68 wasn’t quite enough to make up for the 74 he’d shot on Thursday and he played his way out of the top 70. Mickelson was No. 75 in the standings when at the conclusion of the Northern Trust.
With no PGA Tour event to play and the U.S. Open less than a month away, it only made sense for Phil Mickelson to tee it up on the PGA Tour Champions. He gets tournament reps in and he gets to build some confidence heading into the one major that’s haunted him throughout his career, also the major that’s kept him from completing the career Grand Slam. Lefty has finished as the runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times and he’s running out of chances to win the one tournament he’s wanted to win more than any other.
Phil Mickelson caught fire in his PGA Tour Champions debut
Being who he is, Phil Mickelson knew that his PGA Tour Champions debut would generate some attention and he said that he felt some pressure to perform well, which he certainly did. Coming in as the heavy favorite to win the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National just outside of Branson, Missouri, Mickelson put on a show, carding 11 birdies on the way to an opening-round 61.
Playing alongside fellow two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, Mickelson made four birdies in his first five holes and then made five straight birdies from No. 13 to No. 17. He had a chance to shoot 60 but missed a 15-footer on the 18th to finish at 10-under, one shot better than David Mackenzie.
A win would make him the 20th player in tour history to notch a victory in his first start, the most recent being Jim Furyk last month.
Lefty loves the environment
Following his round, Phil Mickelson admitted he was a little nervous heading into his PGA Tour Champions debut but said that he absolutely loves the environment (h/t Golf.com).
“I was a little nervous. I wanted to get out and play well. So I was able to get off to a pretty good start, I birdied five of the first seven and I felt like I was getting in a groove, and on the back nine, made some nice putts, so it’s fun to play well.
“I went into Boston last week, I shot 61, 63, 4 back home and I was like ready to play. Then I get there and I shoot 3-over and it just threw me off. So I wanted to keep playing because I felt like I was playing well. So to have the opportunity to play in these events and this one in particular was really special and I’m very appreciative of that.”Phil Mickelson
But don’t get used to seeing Lefty on the 50-and-over circuit. He plans to return to the PGA Tour in two weeks for the season-opening Safeway Open and then it’s on to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
But for now, Phil Mickelson is enjoying his time on the PGA Tour Champions and sent a clear message to the rest of the players on tour. He’s not ready to make the full-time jump just yet but once he does, he’s coming to dominate.