(Reuters) – Nick Taylor seized the first-round lead at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday while defending champion Phil Mickelson drove the ball “like a stallion” to get off to a good start at an event he has won five times.
Canadian Taylor shot an eight-under-par 63 at Monterey Peninsula, which plays to a par of 71 and is traditionally the easiest of the three courses used at the tournament.
Patrick Cantlay and Chase Seiffert each carded six-under 66’s at Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach respectively to share second place.
Most of the big names played at Spyglass Hill, including Mickelson (68), Dustin Johnson (69), Jordan Spieth and Graeme McDowell (both 70).
Taylor, No. 229 in the world rankings, could hardly have started or finished better — eagling his first hole and picking up two birdies on his final two.
Mickelson, back at a happy hunting ground after a quick trip to the Saudi International last week, hit the ground running and his mood was upbeat after finishing with three straight birdies.
“I drove it like a stallion and hit almost every fairway and when you’re doing that you can get aggressive and get after it and the fact that I didn’t take advantage of those opportunities was disappointing,” he said.
“But I feel like I’ll be able to continuing driving like that and if I do I’ll get the iron play fixed and roll in some more birdies.
“I was very tentative with my pace because the greens were pretty quick and I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I let a lot of opportunities slide but I shot a four-under round and it’s not going to hurt me. That finish was very helpful.”
Mickelson, 49, was speaking a day after announcing that he would only play the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in June if he qualified automatically and would not accept a special exemption if offered one.
He has finished runner-up a record six times at the national championship, including the biggest heartbreak of his career 14 years ago at Winged Foot, where he double-bogeyed the final hole while needing only a par to win.
Mickelson is currently ranked 72nd in the world. His tie for third in Saudi Arabia on Sunday was his first top-10 finish since he won at Pebble last year.
Dustin Johnson, who also played in Saudi Arabia, frittered away a couple of shots by missing short putts on Thursday but was otherwise satisfied with his form.
“I could have taken a lot more advantage today but I’m swinging good,” said the 2016 U.S. Open champion.
The field plays one round at each of the three courses before the cut and the final round is staged at Pebble Beach.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford)