There was no indication that Phil Mickelson was going to make any kind of serious charge in the first round of the Masters, even though he got through Augusta National Golf Club’s first nine holes with no bogeys and two birdies.
This one was shaping up like another in a growing line of ho-hum starts since he last won the Masters in 2010.
When Mickelson bogeyed the 10th after a badly sliced drive into the trees and rinsed his ball in the pond at 11 for back-to-back bogeys, it seemed as if Lefty would be disconsolate.
In Mickelson’s world — one populated with rainbows and four-leaf clovers — those bogeys served as a booster.
“It looked like after bogeying 10 and 11, that would kill some momentum,” Mickelson said. “It was the other way around, because I made two great bogeys that should have and could have been doubles.”
“Momentum maintainers” Mickelson called his six-foot make for bogey on 10 and a tremendous pitch to tap-in range at 11.
It’s hard to argue with the logic considering what transpired the rest of the way.
Mickelson caught fire, making five birdies in his final six holes, to shoot five-under-par 67 and stand third, one shot behind leaders Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
Koepka, 28, set the table early for a possible fourth major triumph in the last 23 months with a 66 fashioned by a five-under-par 31 on the back nine that included four consecutive birdies. He missed a short birdie putt at 18 that would have given him the outright lead.
Remarkably, DeChambeau had a more dramatic back nine. Starting at the par-three 12th, the quirky 25-year-old who plays with single-length clubs made six birdies in the final seven holes. He tossed in a bogey at the 14th.
DeChambeau made four straight birdies to close and caused a roar at the 18th when he hit the flagstick with an approach shot.
This was like one of those tremendous Sunday afternoon shootouts at Augusta. Combined, Koepka, DeChambeau and Mickelson had 16 birdies in 27 holes.
“What a magical back nine,” said DeChambeau, who was speaking for himself but might as well have been throwing a net over the threesome.
With temperatures in the 80s, light winds and a course made soft by considerable rain early in the week, much of the field attacked Augusta. Twenty-eight players broke par, up from 20 last year and 11 in 2017.
“I thought there were some 66s out there,” Mickelson said. “Look, the greens are softer than they’ve ever been, and they’re not as fast as they normally are. So today was a day to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’ll get firmer and faster as the week goes on. But you could get after the pins and you could putt aggressively.”
Mickelson birdied all four of Augusta’s par-fives, reaching each in two shots.
Even with three Masters victories, Mickelson seemingly would be the interloper among the top three. He won earlier this season at Pebble Beach, but his game has fallen off since. After tying for second here in 2015, he’d shot in the 60s only once.
At 48, Mickelson is only a five years younger than the combined age of Koepka and DeChambeau, but can still count on his experience and knowledge of Augusta’s many subtleties.
He also can still pull off escapes like no one else.
Mickelson missed hitting six fairways, and at 10 and 11 had to punch out of the trees. He seemingly made a big gaffe at 11 when his over-aggressive layup found the water.
But consider his tremendous save at the par-four 17th: After slicing a drive into the trees, Mickelson carved a hard hook over the pines and just off the right side of the green. He hit a deft pitch and saved par.
Mickelson piped his drive down the center at 18, hit an approach to 10 feet and made only the fifth birdie on the hole that played as the day’s toughest.
“It's fun to finish a good round off rather than leak one here or there coming in,” Mickelson said.
A year ago, Koepka didn’t know when or if he’d be able to play golf again because of a wrist injury. He missed the Masters, where he hadn’t enjoyed much success. His best finish in three starts was a tie for 11th.
A win in the Masters would put Koepka just a British Open triumph shy of a career Grand Slam, achieved by five players. He has only six full seasons on tour.