Phil Mickelson takes early 2-shot lead at Wells Fargo Championship after slump

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Phil Mickelson at the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship
Phil Mickelson grabbed his first opening-round lead at a PGA Tour event for the first time in 840 days on Thursday. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR/Getty Images)

Phil Mickelson’s golf game, despite wins on the PGA Tour Champions, has been on a steady decline since his last PGA Tour win in 2019.

One would’ve never guessed it on Thursday.

Mickelson, behind an impressive 7-under 64, took a two-shot lead after the opening round at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. That marked Mickelson’s 30th career opening-round lead, the second most on Tour since 1992, but his first opening-round lead in 840 days.

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"It's just focus. I'm just present on each shot," Mickelson said, via ESPN. "The course holds my attention. I've been doing some mental exercises and so forth just to try to get my focus to elongate over five hours and so forth. That's been a real struggle for me the last few years because physically there's nothing holding me back from playing at a high level. But you cannot make mistakes at this level. The guys out here are just so good, and I've been making a lot of errors, jump simply not being mentally sharp."

Mickelson started his day birdie-bogey, but then closed out his front nine with four birdies in his final five holes to get back under par. He picked up three more on his back nine to get to 7-under, enough to give him a two-shot cushion over Kyoung-Hoon Lee and Keegan Bradley — who are tied in second at 5-under.

Mickelson still has a long way to go to secure his 45th career win on Tour. But his performance on Thursday is impressive, especially considering that he hasn’t won since the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and fell out of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time since 1993 earlier this year. He’s missed the cut in four of his last nine starts, too.

Lefty, though, clearly still has game left in him. Now it’s just a matter of if he can sustain it for another three days.

"The iron play today was incredible," said Joel Dahmen, who played alongside Mickelson, via ESPN. "He hit so many great shots it seemed like inside of 6 feet. And obviously he can pitch it and putt it unbelievably and he made all of his putts today. He was kind of hitting this dink cut past my driver all day and that's impressive.

"If he plays like this, he can play anywhere, anytime against anybody."

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