JOHN NICHOLSON, AP Sports Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Phil Mickelson was a fraction of an inch away from shooting 59 in his 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open victory. Playing partners Justin Thomas and Adam Hadwin are the latest members of the 59 club, and Thomas was plotting some good-natured ribbing at Lefty’s expense.
“There will be some point where he will say something about how many majors he’s won and this and that, and I will just ask him how many times he shot 59 in a competitive round,” Thomas said Wednesday, the day before the start of play at rowdy TPC Scottsdale.
“Then he will probably say something else about all the other majors he’s won and I won’t have anything to say. There are not many things I have on Phil, but that’s one of them. I will make sure to remind him.”
Mickelson will be quick to point out his three victories in the event.
“Yeah, they’ve both shot 59,” Mickelson said. “I’m envious of that. I really am. But I have won this tournament three times and they haven’t. We both have something to be jealous about.”
Four years ago, closing on the par-4 ninth, Mickelson’s 25-foot birdie try for 59 caught the right edge of the cup, curled 180 degrees to the other side of the hole and stayed out.
“That would have been a special moment,” Mickelson said. “Just like the putt on the final hole at the British Open last year to shoot the lowest round in any major would have meant something. You don’t get those opportunities very often. … Both of them, I’m still in disbelief they didn’t go in.”
The 23-year-old Thomas is coming off a two-week break after sweeping the two events in Hawaii. He has won three of his last five PGA Tour starts, also successfully defending his title in Malaysia in October, but lost some of his edge during the layoff.
“It’s OK. It’s not as good as I’d like it to be, to be honest,” Thomas said. “I took a week off completely, like I always do when I have two weeks off, and then just getting back into it, it took me a little longer than I would have liked.”
Thomas opened the Sony Open with a 59 and was 49 under in two weeks in Hawaii. He’s trying to become the first player to win three consecutive PGA Tour events since Rory McIlroy in 2014.
“I like the golf course,” Thomas said. “It’s in perfect shape. It’s pristine. The fairways are firm and fast. The greens are firm. It’s a great test of golf, an unbelievable field. It should be a fun week to watch. … It’s totally different than every other tournament we play in terms of atmosphere and crowds.”
The 46-year-old Mickelson is playing the third of five straight weeks in his return from two sports hernia surgeries. He tied for 21st two weeks ago in La Quinta and tied for 14th last week at Torrey Pines.
“Knowing that I wasn’t going to be 100 percent, to play the way I have the last couple of weeks, gives me a lot of confidence heading into these few weeks,” Mickelson said. “It has more to do with the way last year went and getting the swing and the changes done last year, so that this year there aren’t any.”
The former Arizona State player also won at TPC Scottsdale in 1996 and 2005. He won the last of his 42 PGA Tour titles in the 2013 British Open.
Fellow former Arizona State star Jon Rahm won Sunday at Torrey Pines for his first PGA Tour title.
“I have lived here for the last five years. I consider this my home,” Rahm said. “The support I get from the fans here is unconditional. I don’t get the support like this even almost when I go back home to Spain.”
Jordan Spieth also is returning from a two-week break after tying for third at Kapalua and tying for third at Waialae. He tied for seventh in 2015 in his only other appearance in the tournament.
“These greens are very pure,” Spieth said. “If you’re putting well, you can really putt well out here.”
Hideki Matsuyama won last year, beating Rickie Fowler on the fourth hole of a playoff. The Japanese star has finished at 14-under 270 in each of three starts in the event.
“That’s going to be my goal for the week,” Matsuyama said.
Matsuyama won four times worldwide late last year, taking the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China, two events in Japan and Tiger Woods’ unofficial Hero World Challenge in December.
“I have played well the last six months or so,” Matsuyama said. “I didn’t have real good tournaments at Sony and Farmers, so I’m a little reluctant to say I’m in top form. But hopefully coming back to the desert, especially here in Scottsdale, it will revitalize me.”
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