NORTON — Phil Mickelson was pleased — but not thrilled — with his first round at the Deutsche Bank Championship. After he made seven birdies in his first nine holes, then added an eagle at his 11th, rumblings of golf’s magic number began getting louder.
There would be no 59, though. Mickelson had to settle for an 8-under-par 63 Friday at TPC Boston, matching his lowest round in this tournament. It also gave him a share of the first-round lead with Brian Davis, who birdied his last two holes in the early evening to cap off a bogey-free 63.
Kevin Stadler birdied his last four holes (Nos. 6-9) to shoot 64, and is alone in third. Hunter Mahan, Sergio Garcia, and Roberto Castro all came in at 65 on a calm day with soft, receptive greens, perfect for low scoring.
Nearly everyone took advantage of the conditions: Of the 100 players in the field, 67 broke par, and 12 more matched par of 71.
Paired with Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, Mickelson stole the show, shooting a 28 on his first nine holes, Nos. 10-18. He added an eagle at No. 2 after making the turn, but played his final seven holes in even par.
“It was a good start, I got off to a great front nine,” Mickelson said. “Somewhat stalled on the back, but after shooting 7 under the first nine, it was going to be a good round, as long as I didn’t mess it up.”
Mickelson also had a 63 here in the third round two years ago on his way to a tie for 10th. Mickelson won the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2007 and tied for fourth last year.
Mickelson actually got it to 9 under with a birdie putt on No. 8, and needed one more birdie at his final hole to tie the course record of 61. But he pulled his drive well right of the ninth fairway and needed a few minutes and an eagle eye in locating his golf ball. Mickelson opted against taking an unplayable lie, hacked his second shot out of the trees about 20 yards into the right rough, then two-putted for bogey from 60 feet after hitting his third shot on the green.
“I had a shot and a swing to get it out, and my drop would have been hindered by branches,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t feel like I had a shot [with a drop], so I felt like it was worth the risk.”
Mickelson used a hot putter early, especially from long range. He holed birdies from more than 20 feet on the first two holes (he started on No. 10), another 20-footer at No. 14, then a 12-footer at the 15th. He left himself a 5-footer for birdie at the par-3 16th, made it, then added an 11-footer at No. 17 and a 7-footer at the 18th. Through nine holes, Mickelson needed only 10 putts.
After making the turn, Mickelson bogeyed No. 1 when he bunkered his approach from the fairway and couldn’t convert a 6-footer for par. No problem. He left himself a tap-in for eagle at the 542-yard second, hitting his second shot to 2 feet.
It was then that he started thinking about shooting a 59. His lowest score on the PGA Tour is 60, the latest coming this year in the first round at Phoenix, a tournament he would win.
“At the turn, after I birdied 18, I [thought] I’ve got to shoot 5 under the back side to shoot 59,” Mickelson said. “When I eagled 2, I thought it was realistic. I needed to get [Nos.] 3 and 4. When I didn’t birdie 4, I stopped thinking 59.”
A string of pars cooled Mickelson’s quest for a record-setting round. He had five straight, from Nos. 3-7, then birdied the eighth to briefly get to 9 under and set up the final-hole bogey.
Playing with Mickelson, Woods shot 68 but knew there was a lower score out there.
“I don’t think it was as good as I wanted today,” Woods said. “I didn’t hit the ball as well as I’d like to, but I scored all right. Missed a few opportunities out there. The golf course is really receptive.”
The third player in the marquee group, Masters champion Scott, struggled to a 73.