CROMWELL, Conn. – Phil Mickelson achieved his share of success at TPC River Highlands and won twice when the PGA Tour was still called the Greater Hartford Open.
Then he took 15 years off.
The six-time U.S. Open runner-up needed a break after golf’s grueling major to recover and spend time with his family. Now that his three children have grown up, he is back at the Travelers Championship, trying to regain the form that helped him in 2001 and ’02.
“I skipped it for a long time because it was our kids’ time to take a breather in the summer,” Mickelson, who did not play the event from 2004 to 2018, said Thursday after hitting a 1-under -69 who left him. 6 strokes behind the forerunners. “Now they are all from the East and all over the place.”
Satoshi Kodaira and Kramer Hickok each shot a 63 – the best in their career on tour – to share the lead in the first round. Talor Gooch was 1 stroke back, and five golfers were 2 strokes from the lead at minus-5.
Defending Champion Dustin Johnson, which topped the world rankings 1 Jon Rahm overtook him on Sunday with his US Open victory, initially stumbled with a thug on the second hole and then a doubles on no. 3. He finishes with a few birdies to end the day at 70 at TPC River Highlands.
Mickelson sank a 64-foot hole for birdie on the ninth hole par 4 – his second longest hole since the tour began in 2004 with such things. The 51-year-old PGA Championship winner then had a 40-foot for par at number 10.
“That long birdie putt, it’s just a bonus. You’re just trying to drop it nearby and it just feels in,” Mickelson said. “Same at 10, after I made a mistake and had that long par-hole. Making it was a nice boost. Unfortunately I did not [take] advantage of it on the back nine. ‘
Mickelson was 1 at the back.
“I missed a great opportunity after playing the top nine under a pair,” he said. “I was very close to hitting a bunch of really good shots, but it was only partial.”
Gooch was a shot behind Hickok after the morning rounds. Kodaira took the lead at 8 in the afternoon after making the top nine birdie-eagle birdie, but a thug on the eighth par-3 dropped him into a tie with Hickok again.
Kodaira’s 63 matches his best score on the PGA Tour, from the second round of the 2018 RBC Heritage – his only victory. He was helped when he stabbed an eagle on the 348-yard, par-4 second hole, off the fairway.
“I knew it was on target, but did not see it go in,” he said. “I heard the applause, so I knew it was going to come in.”
Hickok’s best final is tied for eighth place at the Bermuda Championship this year. He starts with a thug on the 10th hole of the par-4 and then rattles off eight birdies without dropping a shot again.
He missed a 5-foot birdie on the 13th hole, but then birded five of the next seven holes and played the last four of the day in 3 under.
“I actually only hit one bad shot – on the par-5 13th. Other than that, I felt like the holes looked awfully big today,” he said. “I made a lot of good holes today …”
According to Hickok, he had his worst warm-up session of the year that morning and sprayed the ball all over the court.
“So I really changed my strategy,” he said. “You just take a lot of weight off your shoulders and you just simplify things … and just say, ‘I don’t have that shot today. I’m not going to try to beat it. “Just go with what you got. ‘