Beginning his fifth season on the PGA Tour, Keith Mitchell had one word in mind: Consistency.
“This year, I kind of took a hard look at my game. I felt like I've either had the game, the potential I should say, to play a lot better than I have on a consistent basis,” Mitchell said on Friday. “I just wanted to take this year and just try to be as consistent as possible, because I felt like feast or famine was kind of my game the last four years and I wanted to be a little bit more consistent, a little bit more patient, a little bit more – play like a Tour pro and not just like a young kid out there firing at flags.”
Well, it hasn’t gone according to script thus far for Mitchell – and that’s not a bad thing.
After missing his first two cuts of the new season, Mitchell has quickly transitioned into feast mode at the CJ Cup. The 29-year-old has shot 62-64 at The Summit Club and leads by five shots. Jordan Spieth (65), Adam Scott (63), Harry Higgs (67) and Seonghyeon Kim (63) share second place at 13 under.
As Mitchell noted, this is a microcosm of his career. Last season, he made 16 cuts, missed 12 cuts and still made it to the second playoff event thanks to a trio of top-5 finishes.
“It's like a roller coaster, and my game is like that,” he said. “Seriously, I'm out there, even today I think I had a five-shot lead at one point and missed a green and it just felt like that again, because I was just holding myself to such high expectations. Some of them are probably a lot too high and that when you don't live up to those, you beat yourself up.”
Mitchell has been trying to live up to the expectations of a PGA Tour winner since his maiden triumph at the 2019 Honda Classic. When asked if it’s more difficult to win a first or second Tour event, he said, “Honestly, the first one you never really expect to win and then when you do, you feel like you're supposed to win more.”
No. 2 almost came earlier this year at the Wells Fargo Championship. Mitchell held a two-shot lead entering the final round but shot 72 and finished T-3 behind winner Rory McIlroy. McIlroy said earlier this week that he was impressed with Mitchell’s game, getting a close-up look in that final pairing.
Mitchell, for his part, was very appreciative of McIlroy’s comments. And even McIlroy himself knows what it’s like to ride that competitive roller coaster as the Quail Hollow triumph didn’t lead to a string of success.
But success is what Mitchell has been experiencing in Las Vegas. And lots of it. He made 10 birdies and no bogeys in the opening round, and there was no hangover in Round 2. He had seven birdies, one eagle and dropped his lone shot of the tournament thus far.
It’s all adds up to 18 under par and a solid edge entering the weekend.
While there is something to be said for consistency, living along the extremes does allow for exceptional performances. Two more days of consistent feasting would be satisfactory for Mitchell.