(Reuters) – Nick Taylor took the lead in the first round on Thursday at Pebble Beach Pro-Am, while defending champion Phil Mickelson drove the ball "like a stallion" to get off to a good start in an event he had won five times to achieve.
Nick Taylor, leader of the first round, speaks to the media after his first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament at the Spyglass Hill Golf Course. Mandatory credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Canadian Taylor shot an eight-under-par-63 on the Monterey Peninsula, which is a par of 71 and traditionally the easiest of the three courses used at the tournament.
Patrick Cantlay and Chase Seiffert each carded 6-under-66s in Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach to share second place.
Most of the big names played in Spyglass Hill, including Mickelson (68), Dustin Johnson (69), Jordan Spieth and Graeme McDowell (both 70).
Taylor, number 229 in the world rankings, could hardly have started or ended better – he had eaten his first hole and two birdies on his last two.
Mickelson, who had returned to a happy hunting ground after a short trip to Saudi International last week, was on the right track and his mood was optimistic after he finished three birdies.
"I rode it like a stallion and hit almost every fairway. If you do, you can become aggressive and strive for it, and the fact that I didn't take advantage of these opportunities was disappointing," he said.
"But I feel like I can go on like this, and if I do, I'll fix the iron game and roll a few more birdies."
"I was very careful with my pace because the greens were pretty fast and I just wasn't aggressive enough. I left a lot of options open but I did a four-under-lap and it won't hurt me. The finish was very helpful. "
49-year-old Mickelson spoke one day after the announcement that he would only play the US Open at Winged Foot in June if he qualified automatically and would not accept a special exemption if he was offered one. [nL4N2A602M]
At the national championship, he was runner-up six times, including the biggest heartbreak of his career 14 years ago at Winged Foot, where he reached the last hole in a double and only needed one par to win.
Mickelson currently ranks 72nd worldwide. His third place finish in Saudi Arabia on Sunday was his first top 10 result since winning in Pebble last year.
Dustin Johnson, who also played in Saudi Arabia, missed a few shots on Thursday by missing short putts, but was otherwise satisfied with his shape.
"I could have used a lot more today, but I'm swinging well," said the 2016 US Open champion.
A round is played on each of the three courses before the cut, and the last round is played on Pebble Beach.
Andrew Both reports in Cary, North Carolina; Edited by Peter Rutherford