Phil Mickelson seems to have regained his touch at the Phoenix Open.
A late starter, Mickelson shot an 8-under-par 63 today to tie Tom Lehman for the first-round lead and leave everybody else at least three strokes behind.
It was a 17-shot turnaround for Mickelson at the 7,083-yard TPC of Scottsdale course. Last year, he finished with an 80 and settled for 61st place, and the year before he tied for 58th.
The 1999 tournament was a preface for a so-so year by Mickelson's standards--he failed to win for the first time since 1992, but still finished 14th on the money list.
"I practiced," explained Mickelson, who was 11th in the Williams World Challenge that Lehman won on Jan. 2. "That's pretty much it. I hadn't practiced two days in a row since August, but after the Grayhawk tourney [Williams], I had a real strong desire to play."
Mickelson, who lives at the Grayhawk Golf Club where the Williams was played, and Lehman, also a Scottsdale resident, had eight birdies and no bogeys in their best performances at their hometown tournament.
"I have had some decent tournaments, but nothing where I have ever threatened to win. So this is a good start," Lehman said.
David Duval, Dennis Paulson, Charles Raulerson and Esteban Toledo were bunched at 66.
The group of 15 at 67 included defending champion Rocco Mediate, while 1998 winner Jesper Parnevik was in a group of nine five shots off the pace.
Mickelson has won three of his 13 titles in Tucson, but has struggled in Phoenix at times. Even when he won the event four years ago, consistency carried him. His best round was a 66.
He parred the first three holes before getting birdies on the next three. Mickelson also birdied the ninth, 11th, 13th, 15th and 17th holes.
But he saved the best for last on the final hole. His approach shot landed on the green, but backspin carried about 15 feet from the fringe and 60 feet from the pin.
Mickelson chipped 10 feet past the hole, but read the break perfectly and sank the comeback attempt to preserve par.
"The longest putt I made all day was that putt to save par," he said.
Lehman has four titles to show for his 14 years on tour, but has been among the top 25 on the money list since 1993.
The $1 million he made at the Williams was the biggest payday of his life, but it doesn't count as official money.
"It was an awfully good field, and a win is a win," said Lehman, who said winning non-tour tournaments was just as fulfilling. "You know, I've had enough success to make myself feel good. I don't feel like I'm an overrated player by any means."