Friday's golf: Mickelson in contention in Champions event after mud birdie

John Marshall
Associated Press
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Tucson, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson waded into the mud after his tee shot on Tucson National’s 15th hole trickled into a pond. He adjusted his feet for balance and punched a 9-iron down the fairway, earning applause from playing partner Fred Couples.

Another 9-iron on the par 5 to 4 feet and, after wiping off his shoes, an improbable birdie.

A bit of Mickelson magic has Lefty in the hunt to make history.

Phil Mickelson looks on during the first round of the Cologuard Classic Friday at the Catalina Course of the Omni Tucson National Resort in Tucson, Arizona.

Mickelson’s mud birdie highlighted a 3-under 70 at the Cologuard Classic on Friday, putting him in contention for a third straight victory to open his PGA Tour Champions career.

“I was so heated, I was going to get in there and play it no matter what — how high that mud came up, it didn’t matter,” Mickelson said. “It wasn’t a hard shot, the ball was sitting fine, so I was going to get in there.”

Mickelson was four shots behind Mike Weir, who had a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Tucson National. Scott Verplank holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie on the par-4 ninth to close out a 65.

Mickelson is bidding to become the first player to win his first three starts on a PGA Tour-sanctioned tour.

Lefty had a relatively stress-free front nine, shooting 3 under on one of the courses where he became the last amateur to win on the PGA Tour 30 years earlier. He hit his second shot on the par-5 eighth hole onto the side of the adjacent No. 3 tee, where Jeff Sluman was walking past after teeing off.

“I hit it way over here just to say hi,” Mickelson said, drawing a laugh from Sluman.

Facing a difficult downhill lie in the dormant Bermuda, Mickelson hit the ball to about 6 feet and made the putt for birdie.

The five-time major champion began having trouble on the back nine, starting with a three-putt bogey on the par-4 11th. Mickelson took double bogey after hitting out-of-bounds on the par-4 13th and appeared to be in trouble when his tee shot on No. 15 rolled into a pond at 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 trickled into the mud, he went right in after it.

“I’m going to have to have Callaway send me another pair of those shoes because these were new, but they’re not any good anymore,” he said.

Mickelson followed with another birdie on the par-5 17th, carving a 3-iron to the front bunker and nearly holing it. He closed with a par on the difficult par-4 18th to shoot even-par 37 on the back nine.

Mickelson won the Ozarks National in Missouri last August in his first start after turning 50 and followed up with a win at the Country Club of Virginia in October. Though primarily focused 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 20-year-old amateur at Arizona State.

“I’ve got some work to do to get those short irons close,” Mickelson said. If I can do that, I can make a lot of birdies here, but this was not the day. I did not score very well today. I’ve got to get after it because these guys are making a lot of birdies and I’ve got to try to pass them.”

Weir opened with two birdies and followed with seven straight pars. The 2003 Masters champion and had five birdies in a stretch of seven holes to shoot five-under 32 on the back nine.

“Overall, it was just solid all the way around,” he said. “I made a couple nice putts. When you shoot 7 under, it’s a few close ones, made a few nice ones, played well, too.”

Verplank had a stretch of six birdies in seven holes after starting on the back nine and followed eight straight pars with his holed-out bunker shot.

“I hadn’t hit many bunker shots, but let’s see what happens and I hit a really good shot,” Verplank said. “But they’re lucky when they go in, so I’ll take it.”

Steve Stricker, who’s also playing both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, was among a group tied for sixth at 69. He hasn’t played a PGA Tour Champions event since September and tied for fourth at the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open this month. He won the 2018 tournament for the first of his five senior titles.

PGA

Brandon Wu birdied the final two holes for a 5-under 67 and the second-round lead in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open.

Wu played the back nine in 4 under at windy Grand Reserve. He birdied the par-4 12th, par-5 15th, par-4 17th and par-5 18th to reach 11-under 133.

“It was kind of a grind,” Wu said. “I missed a short putt kind of early on in the round, made a bogey I think on my fourth hole. I kind of just had to keep my head down and play well on the back.”

The 24-year-old former Stanford player got into the field through the Korn Ferry Tour points list. He won the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in August, and tied for 14th last week in Florida in the first Korn Ferry event since early October.

“I think my game is in a good place,” Wu said. ”It was good to see kind of the things I worked on during the offseason paying off. I did well last week, so that definitely gave me some confidence coming into this week.”

Greg Chalmers was a stroke back after a 68. The 47-year-old Australian also birdied his final two holes, the par-3 eighth and par-4 ninth. He had a hole-in-one on No. 8 in the opening round.

“The wind was really blowing,” Chalmers said. “I didn’t have the greatest control, and my short game really held me in good stead. I made some nice saves from sort of 6, 8 feet for par. It’s a little tricky to putt when the wind is blowing like this. And then I hung in there and started to see some better swings and better shots going into the back nine.”

Home star Rafael Campos and South Africa’s Branden Grace were 9 under. Ryan Brehm of Traverse City was tied for 23rd at 5 under.

Campos rebounded from a bogey on 17 with a birdie on 18 for a 69.

“I think I was just getting a little ahead of myself and I was missing a little bit to the right,” Campos said. “But I was missing in the correct spots. I really was. Which I’m happy with that today. I really never gave myself that many looks to score better, but I managed to deal with the situations as good as I could.”

Grace shot 68.

Jhonattan Vegas (68) and Cameron Percy (69) were 8 under.

First-round leader Tommy Gainey followed his opening 65 with a 76 to enter the weekend at 3 under. Ian Poulter, the top-ranked player in the field at 59th, also was 3 under after a 70.

The tournament is being played opposite the World Golf Championship event in Florida. The winner will get into the PGA Championship in May but not the Masters in April.

LPGA

Annika Sorenstam went more than 12 years without playing on the LPGA Tour. Now she gets two more days.

Sorenstam made three birdies after making the turn at Lake Nona and posted a 1-under 71 in the Gainbridge LPGA. And even with the wrong ruling the previous day that led to an extra stroke, she still made the cut on the number.

“I did what I could,” Sorenstam said. “The goal was to shoot under par and I did, and so that’s all I can do.”

She still was 12 shots out of the lead as Lydia Ko posted a 3-under 69 and took a one-shot lead over Nelly Korda (68). Ryan O’Toole had her second straight 68 and was another shot behind.

Sorenstam, making a one-time appearance because the LPGA Tour is at her home course, finally got some putts to drop and ran off three birdies on her second nine. She finished 36 holes at 2-over 146 and was right on the cut line.

And then she had to wait for the other half to play in the afternoon, wonder if that ruling in the opening round would come back to cost her the weekend.

Sorenstam took a triple bogey on the fifth hole of the opening round when her tee shot avoided going out-of-bounds by a fraction. But it was directly under the gate of a wrought iron fence, the boundary. She asked about opening the gate but was told a stipulation in the rules didn’t allow for that.

So she chose to take a penalty drop, pitched out to the fairway and three-putted from 18 feet in her round of 75.

Turns out that was one of the changes to the modernization of the Rules of Golf in 2019, the largest overhaul ever. The gate now is treated as a movable obstruction – meaning it could be swung open, provided it was not locked (it wasn’t).

The penalty could not be rescinded because Sorenstam played from a different spot.

The rules official, Dan Maselli, was devastated and apologized to Sorenstam after the second round. Sorenstam was not bothered, saying the rules are so new that it’s easy to get it wrong in such a quirky situation.

“He wanted to apologize. He said he was wrong. I could have opened the gate and I could’ve played,” Sorenstam said. “But he said, ‘This is going to hurt me. This is eating me inside.’ I said, ‘Please, please don’t feel that way.’ I appreciate it. He said, ‘I won’t make that mistake again.’ I said, ‘Well, I won’t hit there anymore.’

“You know, those things happen. The rules have changed,” she said. “That’s the way it goes.”

Even if she didn’t play – making the cut meant finding someone to take daughter Ava to volleyball – the 50-year-old Swede did what she wanted.

Sorenstam, who retired after a three-win season in 2008 to start a family, described this as an appearance, not a comeback. She wanted a little competition as she contemplates playing he U.S. Senior Women’s Open this summer, and she said she wouldn’t have played an LPGA tour event if it wasn’t on her home course.

This was not about trying to add to her 72 career victories. But for someone out of competition for nearly as long as her career on the LPGA Tour, she still has ample game.

“The goal was to be a little bit more aggressive. I was at times; not as much as I should have,” she said. “Overall, I’m very pleased. A little chip-in there didn’t hurt. But yeah, I look at it as a great round. I’m not going to analyze it too much.”

The attention shifts to Ko, a former teen prodigy and No. 1 in the world who won her first LPGA Tour event at 15. Ko has gone nearly three years since her last victory, though her game has been trending upward.

“No matter what happens over the weekend, I think it’s good to just keep putting myself in these positions,” Ko said. “I think you get more comfortable with it and the more times you’re there I think the higher chance that at the end it will all happen for you.”

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