In the two Masters Phil Mickelson has won, in 2004 and '06, Lefty opened with respectable, not great, rounds. This Thursday was different for Phil, who had a favorable morning tee time and took full advantage.
A 5-under 67 has put Phil in an unfamiliar spot on day one. Tied with Tom Watson (seriously?), Y.E. Yang (him again?) and Lee Westwood (of course!), Mickelson is arguably the biggest surprise of any of the four up top (OK, not more than Watson, but I'm trying to be dramatic). Only one top-10 all season, Phil came to Augusta National struggling. His tie for 35th at the Shell Houston was capped with three double-bogeys on Sunday, and his play has been far from spectacular.
But as we've all seen before, Augusta can do strange things to great players, and Thursday was one of those days for Phil.
After opening pars on the first two holes, Phil rolled in a sneaky little birdie putt on No. 3, and followed that up with a birdie on the par-5 8th hole. After a dropped shot at the 9th, Lefty got hot, making an eagle on 13, birdie on 14 and birdie on 15. It really could have been lower for Phil if a couple of putts dropped at the end of the round.
A spectacular shot into the 16th set up a makable birdie putt that he didn't quite give enough juice to, and a short putt on 18 rolled the high lip.
It still added up to 67, and for Phil fans everywhere, this has to be a huge sigh of relief. Before 2010 began, we had basically penciled him in as the Augusta favorite, but the game just hasn't been the same as it was when he closed out 2009 on fire.
If his putter can keep it up like this, on a course he enjoys, you'd have to once again put him atop your list of early leaders that have the most likely of chances to be wearing green on Sunday.
If nothing else, it just adds another big name to an already stacked leaderboard after day one, and gives us a chance to remember that Phil is really good when he wants to be.
Maybe all the pressure that a certain someone occupied this week allowed Phil the chance to fly under the radar for once, and he just went about his business without too many questions.
After Thursday, however, people will be asking him a lot of things. If he can avoid the big number this week, he might just be ready to answer anything you got come Sunday night.