Phil Mickelson lights up Ozarks National in PGA Tour Champions debut

Phil Mickelson may have second thoughts on how much he plays on the PGA Tour Champions after lighting up Ozarks National for 11 birdies in his 50-and-over debut on Monday.

Mickelson carded five birdies in a row, beginning at No. 13, en route to shooting 10-under 61, the lowest debut in PGA Tour Champions history, and grabbing a one-stroke lead over Australian David McKenzie in the first round of the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National in Ridgedale, Missouri.

It was quite the start for Mickelson, who is trying to match Jim Furyk, who earlier this month won the Ally Challenge in his Champions Tour debut.

“The expectation is there. If you play well and win, well, you’re supposed to do that. If you don’t, it’s like, ‘What happened?’ ” said Mickelson, who is attempting to become the 20th player to win in his PGA Tour Champions debut. “I wanted to make sure I was playing well when I played in my first one.”

Mickelson, who became eligible for the Champions Tour when he turned 50 on June 16, expressed little interest in playing against the round bellies earlier this year, but the 44-time PGA Tour winner changed his mind after he missed the cut at the Northern Trust Friday and was eliminated from the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

Mickelson made birdie on his first hole, drove the 350-yard par 4, third hole, and was 5 under through his first seven holes. A bogey at the par-5 ninth hole proved to be a temporary road bump for Mickelson.

“I was a little nervous going in and it feels great to get off to a good start, especially when you’re only in a three-round tournament, you don’t have that extra round,” he said. “You’ve got to come out and get off to a good start so that you’re not playing catch-up.”

Mickelson got back on the birdie train at No. 11, and then heated up with a 20-foot birdie putt at 13. That was the first of five birdies in a row, including a 40-footer at 15 and a 30-footer at 16 that was dead center.

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Mickelson, who opened with 73 on Thursday at the Northern Trust and only made seven birdies in his two rounds, tied his record on the PGA Tour with 11 birdies.

Mickelson leads McKenzie, who shot a career-low 9-under 62. K.J. Choi, another 50-year-old rookie, is among a group of four that shot 64. Another rookie, Mike Weir, is part of a half dozen players at 65, including World Golf Hall of Famers Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Bernhard Langer. McKenzie expressed the sentiment of many on Mickelson’s arrival to the senior circuit.

“Anytime you can have someone who’s still competitive on the main tour as Phil is, it’s always fun to see how he comes out and goes and see how you compete against him,” McKenzie said.

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