Mickelson scrambles for 70 in first round of new year

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It may be a new year, but in many ways it’s the same old story for Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson is making his first start of 2020 this week at The American Express, where he’s also serving as tournament host for the first time. He got off to a hot start in his opening round at La Quinta Country Club, one of three courses in rotation this week, notching birdies on three of his first six holes.

While he has spoken often about a desire to improve on an inconsistent 2019 season, Mickelson wasn’t able to avoid some of the pitfalls that cost him during much of last year as he made a double bogey on No. 8 to stunt his momentum and only found five of 14 fairways.

But there’s plenty of short-game magic left in the tank for Mickelson, who needed only 23 putts to complete his round and signed for a 2-under 70 despite some wayward ball-striking.

The American Express: Full-field scores | Full coverage

“I had fun. It’s probably the highest I should have shot,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, but I feel like my game is really good. I’m excited about coming out here the next few days and lighting it up.”

Mickelson will head to the Nicklaus Tournament course in the second round before playing the Stadium Course for each of the final two rounds, assuming he makes the 36-hole cut.

Mickelson was a runner-up to Adam Long at this event one year ago thanks in large part to an opening-round 60 at La Quinta. While he wasn’t able to channel similar magic this time around, he remains optimistic about his chances of sparking a rally at an event where he’s now become a tournament staple.

“It wasn’t quite as sharp as I wanted it to be, maybe a little rusty, but it was a good first day,” Mickelson said. “Certainly wasn’t last year, but we have got three more days to continue to build on it.”