Phil Mickelson caps first TOC round in 21 years with driver-off-the-deck birdie

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Phil Mickelson capped his "fun" return to the Sentry Tournament of Champions with quite the exclamation point. 

That exclamation point? A perfectly cut driver off the deck on the par-5 18th en route to a birdie.

After Lefty smashed his tee shot 332 yards, he had another 330 yards to the hole, so he broke out his driver for a second consecutive shot – this time in the middle of the fairway – and launched his ball 304 yards, leaving it 77 feet from the cup. He left his eagle putt 8 feet short, but then converted for birdie.

The 51-year-old has lately been fond of boomeranging his driver not just off the deck, but in the deep rough. He broke it out from the woods at the Fortinet Championship in September and then did it again en route to winning the PGA Tour Champions' Constellation Furyk and Friends. 

But even though the lie in Kapalua was much cleaner for the six-time major champion, he still faced some challenges in his first Sentry Tournament of Champions start in 21 years, and that may have been reflected in his spot on the leaderboard (T-25); though, a late rally has him only six shots off the lead.

Full-field scores from the Sentry Tournament of Champions

"It's a beautiful place and every hole has such scenery, and so forth, but it is a hard golf course to walk," Mickelson said following a 2-under 71. "I'm hurting. It's vertical. It's hard. It's not easy. And that was the biggest challenge because I was winded going up and down those hills.

"But I drove the ball well today. I didn't score very well the first 14 holes. I was sloppy, but I made four good putts the last four holes to finish at 2 under – not do too much damage – and I feel like my game as well as I'm driving the ball, get my iron play sharp, I feel like I've got some low rounds in me." 

Mickelson is in this week's winners-only field thanks to his PGA Championship victory, where he emerged out of last year's toughest major field on Kiawah Island and became the oldest player to win a major. Now he's looking to try some new things he's been working on to notch another unexpected victory on an island, though this one would come 4,665 miles from Kiawah. 

"I'm having fun," he said "I'm enjoying the challenge, I'm enjoying playing, competing and I've had a couple of little really mini-breakthroughs in my game and I'm hopeful to put it to use and score, that's the ultimately the bottom line, you just got to go shoot a number."