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A 63 is his soar point

THE NISSAN OPEN

Harrington flies past Mickelson's 66 on a day when low scores are the order at Riviera.

February 16, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

As the crow flies, it's 99 miles, and probably a week, from McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad to Santa Monica Airport. Crows aren't very fast.

As Phil flies, it's an entirely different flight plan. Still 99 miles, but try 30 minutes.

The Mickelson Method of commuting to golf tournaments got off to a flying start Thursday. He left his house in Rancho Santa Fe at 5:15 a.m., hopped on his jet, landed in Santa Monica at 6:15, teed off at Rivera Country Club at 8:10, shot a five-under-par 66, signed a bunch of autographs, and then headed back to the airport for his ride back home.

But before he left Riviera, Mickelson saw Padraig Harrington at the top of the Nissan Open scoreboard with an eight-under 63.

Mickelson was not yet in his jet, but he still was brought back down to earth. "It's a little humbling to shoot what I thought was a good round and then get lapped by three," he said.

Play was halted at 5:50 p.m. because of darkness with six players still on the course.

The way this thing seems to be going, everyone may have to buckle their seat belts. On surprisingly firm and fast greens, with little or no rough and only a slight breeze, Harrington set the pace. His 63 was only two shots off the tournament record.

It's early, but Riviera is getting beat up. There were 68 players in the field of 144 who shot at least par and 31 had scores in the 60s. Mickelson's lowest round at Riviera left him in a second-place tie with Pat Perez and Briny Baird, one shot ahead of Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, David Howell and Cameron Beckman.

Only four days after his blazing closing round of 66 that won at Pebble Beach, Mickelson said he's experiencing a carry-over effect.

"I think momentum may have helped carry me, especially on the greens," he said. "It is nice to be playing well."

And when you're playing Riviera, it's nice to stay out of bunkers, which Mickelson managed to do except for the 10th -- and that wasn't a bad place to be because he wound up making a birdie. He drove over the green and into a bunker at the 315-yard par four, knocked it out to seven feet and made the putt.

Mickelson convinced a 30-foot putt to fall for a birdie at the third and then birdied the fifth after getting to within five feet from 140 yards out.

Ernie Els, who shot a two-under 69, was playing with Mickelson.

"Phil played awful ... I mean awesome," Els said. "I played awful."

He was being too hard on himself. And then there was Perez, who fights going that way. But there was nothing to feel bad about Thursday, not after his five-under round that ended when he made a downhill 15-footer at the ninth, his closing hole.

Perez said he got some putting tips from his friend, actor Joe Pesci, in practice Wednesday at Lakeside Country Club.

"He made sense for once," Perez said.

Meanwhile, Harrington had no trouble making sense of Riviera, even though it's the first time he has played here. So much for local knowledge. He started with a birdie, and then ran off four in a row when he made the turn. When he added it up, Harrington had 10 birdies, two bogeys and a new appreciation for not knowing how he did it.

"Obviously, some day it will catch up to me, the fact that I don't know the golf course. Today it didn't," he said.

"Unfortunately it's only Thursday, so it's a good round of golf. I think it would have to have more significance [if] it was on Sunday to win. That would be a great round. On Thursday, it's a good round. But nothing more than that."

Furyk has spent most of his range time trying to find the right driver, but he was solid on opening day. He was four under on the front, avoided any pratfalls on his second nine holes and had nothing bad to say about his position.

Last week at Pebble Beach, Furyk had the misfortune to get a late tee time Saturday that had him making the turn at the wrong time -- right into the teeth of the wind and rain. He shot a 76, thought he cost himself at least two shots, but still wound up in a tie for sixth.

"I'm comfortable with my game," he said.

Howell, who was third on the European Tour's Order of Merit last year, didn't play much on the PGA Tour, but was extremely consistent. He made 13 cuts in 14 tournaments, earned $912,000 and kept his card by finishing 96th on the money list.

Howell opened his 2007 schedule at Dubai. He hadn't played or practiced in six weeks.

Said Howell: "Fantastic plan ... I missed the cut."

As for Mickelson, who tees off at 12:40 today, he has a game plan that includes shaving, something he didn't have time for Thursday because of his early wake-up call. He's hoping for a repeat performance of his first round, and after that, maybe he'll see if it's good enough by Sunday.

That could be a close shave too.

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Leaderboard

First-round scores from Riviera Country Club. Par 71 (35-36). Play was suspended due to darkness with six golfers not finishing.

1. Padraig Harrington 63 -8

2. Phil Mickelson 66 -5

2. Pat Perez 66 -5

2. Briny Baird 66 -5

5. Jim Furyk 67 -4

5. David Howell 67 -4

5. Sergio Garcia 67 -4

5. Kevin Stadler 67 -4

5. Cameron Beckman 67 -4

10. Vijay Singh 68 -3

10. Geoff Ogilvy 68 -3

10. Aaron Baddeley 68 -3

10. Eric Axley 68 -3

10. Rod Pampling 68 -3

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