Thursday's golf: Spieth, Garcia open with 63s at Colonial; Mickelson 10 back

By Stephen Hawkins
Associated Press
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Fort Worth, Texas — Phil Mickelson kept hearing congratulatory words as he made his way around Colonial, and there was a huge roar from the crowd when the PGA Championship winner made a long putt to finish his round. Jordan Spieth kept making birdies in the same group.

Jordan Spieth plays his shot from the sixth tee during the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Thursday, May 27, 2021.

Spieth shot a 7-under 63 on a breezy Thursday and was tied for the first-round lead at the Charles Schwab Challenge with Sergio Garcia, who had a 15-foot birdie attempt on the 18th hole that circled the edge of the cup but didn't go in. Both former Colonial champions had bogey-free rounds.

The 50-year-old Mickelson, only four days after becoming the oldest winner of a golf major, was 10 strokes back after a 73 that ended with the 22-foot birdie while playing with local favorite Spieth and defending Colonial champion Daniel Berger (68).

“Yeah, I didn’t play well," Mickelson said. “But I won the PGA, so.”

Garcia matched the closing 63 he had at Colonial when he got the first of his 11 PGA Tour wins 20 years ago at age 21. He was 5 under on the four-hole stretch right in the middle of the round. He birdied holes No. 8-10 before an eagle at the 620-yard 11th, where he blasted out of a greenside bunker on the course’s longest hole.

“It was quite breezy. It was gusty, so it wasn’t easy to pull some of the clubs," Garcia said. "There were some tough holes out there, but I was able to hit really good shots on those holes, and a couple up-and-downs when I needed them.”

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Right after Mickelson's final putt at the 387-yard ninth, Spieth had a tap-in for his third birdie in a row, and seventh overall — and right after a 71-foot chip-in from the rough at the par-3 eighth. The 2016 winner and two-time runner-up had his best score in 33 career rounds at Colonial, one of two local events for the Dallas native, after rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt to start the day.

“It's hard to go any lower,” Spieth said. “That's what I talked about before the tournament. If I could get a couple to go in early in the first round, and the confidence, and the work I’ve been doing on my stroke the last few days ... I thought that would exude just a little bit of confidence into the rest of the round on greens where I’ve been very successful on before.”

Erik Compton, the two-time heart transplant recipient who got into the field on a sponsor exemption, and Jason Kokrak had 65s. The 41-year-old Compton played bogey-free after birdies on the first two holes of his second PGA Tour start this year. He missed the cut at the Honda Classic.

Mickelson, the 2000 and 2008 Colonial champ, missed nine of 14 fairways — some with irons off the tee — in a scrambling early-starting round that followed an emotionally draining few days.

After winning Sunday at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Mickelson flew home that night to California, then allowed himself a couple of days to relish his historic accomplishment. Lefty said he never considered skipping Hogan's Alley, a tree-lined course he considers perfectly suited for his game because he doesn't have to keep hitting drivers.

But the rough is thick after a lot of rain recently, and there is a good chance of more Friday.

Mickelson, playing his last tournament before the hometown U.S. Open at Torrey Pines next month, went into the rough on his first swing of the day. While saving par at the 407-yard 10th, he quickly had the first of his five bogeys at No. 11, where he hit two shots into the rough and another into a greenside bunker. He finally made a birdie at the par-3 16th from inside of 5 feet, then immediately gave that stroke back at No. 17 with the first two shots into the rough before a 44-foot shot into a bunker.

“It was almost like I was trying a little too hard, and I wasn’t just calm and let it happen, and I was a little bit antsy,” Mickelson said, then adding the term unsettled. “Like I just couldn’t quite get calmed down in that same frame of mind.”

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Mickelson said the course was very playable, even with the 15-20 mph winds, because of receptive greens. But he couldn't keep the ball in the fairway.

“You can’t play this course out of the rough because then you have tree trouble, which I had repeatedly, and I didn’t putt well,” he said. “But I won the PGA, so I’ll see if I can get it turned around for tomorrow and get a little better focus, a little better energy.”

Senior PGA

Three weeks after beating Steve Stricker in a playoff in the Regions Tradition for his first major title, Alex Cejka got off to a solid start in his pursuit of a second.

Cejka led the morning wave with a 3-under 67 in the Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club. Stricker also was 3 under, but had only played seven holes when a line of storms forced the afternoon wave off the course at 3:48 p.m. Play was suspended for the day at 6 p.m.

After a bogey on the first hole, Cejka birdied Nos. 3, 4 and 5, despite difficult pin positions on the sloped Southern Hills greens on each. He added three more birdies on the back nine.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, Mike Weir and John Riegger each shot 68, and Brett Quigley, Shaun Micheel, Gene Sauers, Larry Mize and John Huston followed at 69.

A childhood refugee from communist Czechoslovakia who grew up in Germany, the 50-year-old Cejka was long and accurate off the tee, giving him the confidence to go at the flag even on pin positions that normally would call for a safer shot.

“I hit great tee shots which set me up with short clubs to the green on 3 and 4, and then hit it in a greenside bunker on 5 and made a great up-and-down from there,” Cejka said. “So that helped hitting big drives where you suddenly have a short iron in. Especially into those pins that were tucked behind those bunkers and they were pretty tricky. I didn’t expect it the first day to have it set up like this, but it’s tough."

Cejka won the PGA Tour's 2015 Puerto Rico Open and also had victories on the European and Korn Ferry tours.

“I’m feeling great,” Cejka said. “I played great shots, I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, gave me a lot of good chances and I’m very pleased where I’m standing right now after day one so far I feel good the last couple of weeks in general with the whole game. Putting’s been great. Obviously, to win tournaments you have to have the whole package. You got to drive well, chip well, putt well, you got to get lucky, and that’s part of the game too. So far I’ve been hitting well, chipping well, putting well, hopefully I keep going like this.”

Weir, who also is experiencing a resurgence in his game, pulled a back muscle Tuesday and could not bend over, let alone swing a club. After hours in the fitness trailer, he was able to play and reached 4 under on the back nine before hitting into a greenside bunker on 15 and a fairway bunker on 16, leading to bogeys on both.

“I putted well today,” said Weir, who made six birdies, including a 20-footer on the first hole and one he estimated at 40 feet on the par-5 13th. I rolled the ball really well. That was the big thing. My driving was a little off, but the putting was good and even the ones that didn’t go in felt good.”

Micheel, whose lone victory came in the 2003 PGA Championship, said the rolling greens on the restored Southern Hills course can be so treacherous that at times he missed the greens intentionally with his approach shots, knowing he could get up and down from safer areas.

“There were quite a few front pins,” Micheel said. “The greens here are phenomenal, but the front pins are tricky because the greens are pretty firm. I intentionally missed a couple of greens just because of that. Sometimes you just have to do that. I call it just kind of take your medicine a little bit and just leaving yourself the next opportunity.”

LPGA

Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas set up a showdown Friday for a spot in the final 16 in the LPGA Match Play. First, they planned to watch “Friends: The Reunion” together.

“Of course,” Salas said.

“There’s a reunion,” Kang added.

“We have matching `Friends'-like doors, the yellow frame," Salas said. "We have matching key chains. She got the set.”

The friends each won their first two matches at Shadow Creek to set up the duel for a spot in the final 16. On Thursday in hot conditions, Kang beat Madelene Sagstrom 2 and 1, and Salas topped Albane Valenzuela 3 and 2.

Kang is a Las Vegas resident and ambassador for course owner MGM Resorts.

“Tomorrow is going to be definitely interesting,” Kang said. “I’m playing one of my best friends. But at the end of the day, we’re still competitors. Just going to go out there and play the best we can, and at the end of the day I want to win and I know she wants to win. So we’re going to bring our A games and see who comes out on top.”

Salas is coming off her best finish of the year, a tie for fifth last week in the Pure Silk Championship in Virginia.

“We go way back and we know each other’s games, and obviously this is her home course," Salas said. “I have to focus on me and what I’m capable of. I believe my game is there and I could maneuver my way around this golf course. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be fun.”

Second-ranked Inbee Park, the Hall of Famer from South Korea who went to high school in Las Vegas and lives in the area, rebounded from an opening tie to beat Celine Boutier 5 and 3.

“Just trying to play a bit better than the day before,” Park said. “There are not many birdies out here, so trying to hit some shots that I really need to hit and trying to eliminate some bogeys out there.”

Stacy Lewis will face ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit for a spot in single elimination in the final event before the U.S. Women’s Open is week at Olympic in San Francisco. They were both 1-0-1, with Lewis winning the final two holes with pars to tie Sarah Kemp, and Tavatanakit beating Mi Hyang Lee 2 and 1.

“I just tried to play smart," Lewis said. “Luckily par was good enough.”

The tournament is the LPGA Tour’s first match play event since the 2017 Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico.

“This format is a little strange," Lewis said. "We’re still trying to figure out how it all works. Feel like you do all this work to get to the point tomorrow where you do have an opportunity to advance, and so you kind of have to throw everything out, forget about what you did the last two days, and really just comes down to tomorrow.”

Top-ranked Jin Young Ko held off Caroline Masson 1 up for her second victory.

Third-ranked Sei Young Kim, the winner in the 2017 event in Mexico, won the 18th for the second straight day for her second tie, this time with Yu Liu. To advance, Kim will need to beat Brittany Altomare and then beat her again in a playoff. Altomare birdied the 18th for a 1-up victory over Ayako Uehara and 2-0 record.

Fourth-seeded Brooke Henderson dropped out of contention with her second straight loss, falling 1 up when Ashleigh Buhai won the par-5 18th with a birdie.

European Tour

Richard Bland is back in the lead on the European Tour, two weeks after becoming the oldest first-time winner in its history.

The 48-year-old Englishman shot 5-under 66 on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Made in Himmerland event in Denmark with Spain's Pablo Larrazabal, Finland's Lauri Ruuska, Austria's Bernd Wiesberger and South Korea's Yi Keun Chang.

In the last event on the tour — the British Masters two weeks ago — Bland finally won at the 478th attempt by beating Guido Migliozzi in a playoff at The Belfry.

“I was just happy to get back out playing, to be honest,” the No. 134-ranked Bland said. "I hadn’t really done a lot last week, I played once with some friends and did a little bit of practice.

“I was coming in a little bit unprepared, but sometimes that’s not always a bad thing. I just tried to carry on where I left off and managed to do that.”

Wiesberger is defending the title he won in 2019 — the event was canceled last year because of the pandemic — and moved into contention with three straight birdies from the fourth hole before an eagle on No. 8. He holed a 30-foot putt for birdie at the last.

Ruuska, whose round included a hole-in-one at the par-3 16th, usually plays in the Nordic Golf League. He has an exemption for this week.

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