Mickelson speeds downhill to finish opening round of Masters near lead

Phil Mickelson taps in a birdie put on 16 during the first round of the Masters Tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

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Phil Mickelson taps in a birdie put on 16 during the first round of the Masters Tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

The roller coaster ride that often doubles as a Phil Mickelson round of golf went full topsy-turvy in the opening round of the Masters on Thursday.

Mickelson stood on the 12th tee box at Augusta National at even par. He was coming off back-to-back bogeys, including finding the water that guards the 11th green. After being 2-under to finish the front nine, the three-time Masters champion was headed in the wrong direction.

However, he ended the day with birdies on five of the final seven holes for a nifty round of 5-under 67 and third place, just a stroke behind leaders Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka.

How’s that for a downhill thrilling finish to the ride?

Here’s how Mickelson finished the round to find himself in prime position after one day.

*No. 12 – 15-foot birdie putt

*No. 13 – 2-foot birdie putt

*No. 14 – 32-foot par putt

*No. 15 – 3-foot birdie putt

*No. 16 – 7-inch birdie putt

*No. 17 – Up-and-down par save from 33 yards off green with a 7-foot putt

*No. 18 – 7-foot birdie putt

“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. After going in the water at 11 to hit that close and have an easy bogey and then to make a 6‑footer for bogey on 10 after a terrible drive, those were almost momentum maintainers, if you will, that kept me in it. And then when I got to the holes that I could birdie I took advantage of it with some good shots.”

With the altered PGA Tour schedule, Mickelson did not play the week before the Masters. He spent four days at the course working on his game and then returned home to continue his preparation.

“I think that I'm just as curious as anybody,” Mickelson said before the tournament about his pre-tournament work. “It’s a chance to be fresh and ready, but it’s also a chance to be maybe not as sharp. I'm just not quite sure how it's going to play out.”

So far, so good.

Mickelson was fourth after the first round in 2017 but finished tied for 22nd. The last time he was nearly this high on the leaderboard was in 2010 when he was second and went on to win his third green jacket.

“It’s fun to make a good par save on 17 and birdie the last,” Mickelson said. “It’s fun to finish a good round off rather than leak one here or there coming in. So it was a good day.”

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