With the big names sleep-walking during round one at Bay Hill Thursday, it was up to Phil Mickelson to provide some first day thrills and Lefty delivered.
Mickelson got off to a great start and made the turn at three under par then on the 10th hole came something that may have never happened on the PGA Tour.
Phil sliced his tee shot and it came to rest, barely in bounds beneath a netted boundary fence. He went over the fence, turned his club over and made some right-handed practice swings. Keep in mind that Mickelson is naturally right-handed but plays golf from the other side.
“I hit it solid, I thought it was gonna be fine,” said Mickelson, who looked toward the 10th green, thinking that was where his ball was headed. It didn’t make it.
The ball got caught up in the netting and as that netting unfurled, the ball came to rest on the wrong side — out of bounds. Mickelson got his fourth to the front of the green but would end up with a double-bogey six. That derailed what could have been a great round. As it turned out, Mickelson fought back with birdies at 13 and 15 then hit a perfect drive at the 18th, leaving himself 166 yards in. He hit a perfect shot that stopped just a few inches short of the hole. “It was a go-pin for me,” Mickelson explained. “The hole plays different for a left-hander, that shot set up perfect for me.”
The tap-in birdie gave Lefty a 68 and left him just three back of leader Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain.
“I thought anything in the 60s would be phenomenal,” said Mickelson, who went out in the afternoon wave. “Tomorrow we can get out early and the greens will be perfect.”
Mickelson fared far better than the field’s highly-ranked players. World’s No. 2 Justin Rose looked rusty after his month-long layoff and shot 71. No. 3 Brooks Koepka struggled with a 74. Bryson DeChambeau’s 75 left him in danger of missing the cut. Defending champion, world’s No. 6, Rory McIlroy, had to birdie two of his final three holes to get back to even-par 72. Rickie Fowler had an early morning struggle and ended up with 74 while 10th-ranked Francesco Molinari, using new Callaway equipment, turned in a 69.
One prominent player — former Bay Hill winner Jason Day — didn’t make it past seven holes. Day, ranked 11th, had a routine second into the par five 16th and chunked it in the water. He turned to his playing partners and said — “I think I’m done.” And he was. He left the course with a bothersome back. He revealed that he has a torn disc between his L4 and L5 vertabrae. Day said he hopes to play next week at The Players but things weren’t looking good for him.
It was a perfect day in Orlando and no one threatened Bello, who played in the morning and came up with eight birdies on his card. His 65 tied his low score on the PGA Tour. He’s never won a tour event, has three wins on the European Tour, where he plays full-time.
Editor’s Note: As good as Phil was on Thursday, Friday proved a 180-degree opposite. Lefty looked forward to getting out early but he must have fell off the wrong side of the bed. He went out and shot 40 on the back nine to start his day with a giant thud. Another bogey to start the back-nine and suddenly Lefty was moving totally in the wrong direction — from contention to struggling to make the cut.