Eagle shoots Mickelson to top of leaderboard

Phil Mickelson made an 18-foot eagle on his final hole and joined John Mallinger and Nick Watney as co-leaders after Thursday’s first-round action at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Phil Mickelson made an 18-foot eagle on his final hole and joined John Mallinger and Nick Watney as co-leaders after Thursday’s first-round action at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

All three golfers finished at seven-under-par 65 while Arjun Atwal, Jason Schultz and Jim Furyk are two strokes behind.

The tough conditions made Mallinger, a tour rookie, relieved he had an early tee time at Pebble Beach and was able to avoid most of the strong winds that came on heavy in the afternoon.

When there is no wind, Pebble Beach is defenceless and Mallinger, who began his round on the back nine, took advantage of it, making birdies on his first three holes.

“The weather was co-operating at first,” Mallinger said. “Started off at 10 and made a real good putt coming in and got off to a great start.”

The tour rookie, who finished tied for 13th at last year’s PGA Tour Qualifying School, added two more birdies on the par 5 14th and 18th.

On the back nine, Mallinger managed two birdies as the wind, which was estimated at 20 to 30 miles per hour, began to howl through the course.

“It was brutal coming in,” Mallinger said. “I would probably say it was one of my better rounds coming in, just ball-striking wise and just staying together.”

The most impressive putt Mallinger had was a 15-footer that saved par on his final hole. The wind was in his face on the 466-yard par 4 and Mallinger’s drive was 255 yards and in the left rough. Forced to lay up, Mallinger hit his third shot to 15 feet.

“That was probably the closest I had to making a bogey all day,” he said. “I played pretty solid but that was one I really wanted.”

Watney made three birdies and an eagle on his front nine at Poppy Hills. His only miscue of the day was a bogey on his 10th hole.

“I missed about a 21 1/2-footer for par, I’m not sure what happened,” Watney said. “I’m going to say it took a hop. It happens.”

Several golfers were close to the lead, but made bogeys toward the end of their round when the winds got more severe.

Mickelson was one of the few that had success towards the end of his round. He got to the par 5, 555-yard ninth hole at Poppy Hills and managed an eagle. He hit his second shot 230 yards to 18 feet and made the putt.

“After a little bit of a wait I was able to get a good drive,”

Mickelson said. “Hit a 4-iron to 18 feet and made the putt down the hill for eagle.”

This is the first time Mickelson has been in the top 10 after the first day this year. He began his year at the Bob Hope and finished tied for 45th.

The following week at the Buick Invitational he finished tied for 51st. Last week at the FBR Open, he failed to make the cut.

“I didn’t think it would take three tournaments to get to where I wanted to be,” Mickelson said. “But each tournament I’ve seen progress and I’ve seen improvement.”

Dubliners Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington enjoyed mixed fortunes. McGinley shot a 69 to leave himself in a tie for 18th place while Harrington struggled home in 74 in joint-96th position.

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