Phil Mickelson Tops Constellation Furyk and Friends Leaderboard

Phil Mickelson watches the flight of his drive off the 10th tee of the Timuquana Country Club on Friday in the first round of the Constellation Furyk & Friends.Phil
Phil Mickelson watches the flight of his drive off the 10th tee of the Timuquana Country Club on Friday in the first round of the Constellation Furyk & Friends.Phil /

It should really come as no surprise that Phil Mickelson is leading the Constellation Furyk & Friends tournament at 6-under par.  He’s spent most of the last 12 months playing on the PGA Tour where he had to compete against the very best 20-somethings in the world. This is just his fourth PGA Tour Champions event, and he’s won two of them.

However, Phil-the-Thrill is not on top by himself, proving what the older players say about stiff competition in the over-50 circuit.

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Also at 6-under par is Matt Gogel, who turned 50 in February. They are only one stroke ahead of a pack of 5-unders and 4-unders. Tournament host, Jim Furyk, is in 13th place, tied with seven players, including Ernie Els, at 3-under par.

Shooting 6-under par on a par 71 golf course is no easy feat. Mickelson did it, making seven birdies  — at the 1st, 3rd,4th, 7th, 8th, 13th and 14th — and only one bogey, which came at the final hole. He was even able to retain most of his early round form after a lengthy rain delay although he noted that he wasn’t quite as sharp when they returned to the course.

“I just was a little bit off,” he said. “I just didn’t feel great, but fought to finish the round off and try to regroup for tomorrow. It’s a good start, though. I didn’t do any damage.”

Mickelson likes the design of the Timuquana CC course, which was originally created by Donald Ross (1923) and most recently renovated by Bobby Weed (1996).

“The greens are challenging because there’s slight roll-offs on all sides, a little bit like Pinehurst but not as severe,” he explained. “There’s very soft movements, so if you hit good shots and you get on the green, you have great looks at birdie.”

He really likes the areas around the greens because they allow him to get a wedge under the ball and to hit what he called “decent chips” or have the option to putt.

“Nowadays, I don’t know why, we’ve been making it so tight around the green that you simply can’t get a wedge underneath it,” he explained. “This here is different. You’ll see a lot of nice little pitches around the green.”

He called the grass around the greens incredible.  Golf Channel’s John Cook said it was zoysia, which most good golfers say is the best playing surface.  However, the Golf Course Superintendents information said the course is Bermudagrass with the tees and fairways being Celebration Bermudagrass, the greens Tifeagle, and the rough, 419 Bermudagrass.  ( Trust John Cook on this one.)

When asked what part of his game he was working on, he said distance, because he’s still impressed by what Bryson De Chambeau is doing, and he’s also focusing on his iron game.

“For me, it’s getting my iron play back to the level that I know it can be,” he said.  “If I do, if I execute my short irons the way I believe I am or I’m starting to, which is similar to the time in the mid 2000s, I think I’m going to have a really good week here because this is a golf course that really favors a lot of good short iron play.”

This is only Mickelson’s fourth PGA Tour Champions event, and no one knows how much time he will devote to the over-50 tour and how much time he will devote to the regular PGA Tour.  He does enjoy it when he plays.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for guys my age to continue doing what we love, competing, and having a great quality of life doing it,” he said. “I think that
there’s also some interest from golf fans to continue to watch people they’ve watched for decades continue to play and compete.”

With Mickelson’s historic victory at the PGA Championship last May, where he became the oldest golfer to win a major, he has a five-year exemption to the majors and on the PGA Tour.  However, he would already be exempt to the Masters, British Open and PGA on past champion status. In addition, his victory total on the PGA Tour is more than twice what he needs for a lifetime exemption.  In other words, he has options.

Next. Who’s Most Likely to Get First PGA Tour Win This Season: Will Zalatoris?. dark

The question may be, does he want to try for PGA Tour Champions records? Does he want to pick up some old rivalries with guys he played against for 30 years on the PGA Tour.  Or does he still want PGA Tour victories?