The PGA Tour Champions circuit is no stranger to big names with players like Ernie Els, Davis Love III and Vijay Singh.
Yet, none are bigger than this week’s favorite at Ozarks National Golf Course, Phil Mickelson.
“I was a little nervous going in and it feels good to get off to a good start, especially when you’re only in a three round tournament, you don’t have that extra round,” Mickelson said.
Making his Champions Tour debut, Lefty went out red-hot with five birdies in the first seven holes. Then he encountered a little trouble.
“I hit one ball in the thick stuff, and I was able to find it and unfortunately it was my only bogey on [number] nine,” Mickelson said.
From there it was the type of play we’re used to as Mickelson surged into the lead with five straight birdies on the back nine.
“It’s just a very relaxed atmosphere and that allowed me to kind of free up and hit some shots and play what I call free where you’re not steering the ball and you’re letting it go,” Mickelson said.
Still, Mickelson says this event is about more than the scorecard, as he’s getting the chance to play some of his old friends and rivals from the main tour.
“It’s fun for me to come out here and know everybody. Whereas on the regular tour, half the guys, I’m like ‘who?’ They’re young, upcoming from the Korn Ferry Tour and it’s like ‘wow this guy can play, who is it?’,” he said.
Just like most of his counterparts, Lefty says Ozarks National is the perfect place for the reunion.
“It’s an incredible golf course,” he said. “I’m a huge [Ben] Crenshaw, [Bill] Coore fan, they did a remarkable job here. I think they’re the best architects in the game and to play one of their gems is a lot of fun.”
It’s especially fun when you’re playing in the lead. Mickelson holds a one-stroke lead at 10-under heading into the second round.