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Twitter banter ignites a focused Phil Mickelson as he takes Wells Fargo lead

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Joel Dahmen poked the bear.

In a friendly Twitter exchange on Wednesday night, Dahmen, a winner of one PGA Tour event, ended his back and forth with World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson by writing, “I’m excited to see how my game stacks up against the best of the @ChampionsTour.”

Well, Mickelson, 50, who has won twice on the PGA Tour Champions, flexed his PGA Tour muscles playing alongside Dahmen on Thursday and fired a 7-under-par 64 to take the lead through one round of the Wells Fargo Championship at sunlit Quail Hollow.

Mickelson, a winner of 44 PGA Tour titles, including five major championships, made a lone bogey as he bested his finest round of the season by three shots. It was clearly Mickelson’s best showing in 2021; he’s missed four cuts in nine worldwide starts and his best result was a tie for 21st in the Masters.

He has not won since the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Wells Fargo: Leaderboard | Photos | Friday tee times, TV info

“I love the banter. I think it’s funny and it kept the atmosphere in our group really light,” Mickelson said. “We laughed a bunch. We had some fun things to talk about, but we were laughing even before we teed off.

“I like how he’s able to laugh at himself and have fun with the game of golf and not take it too seriously. Lanto (Griffin) is the same way, so we had a really fun group.”

Mickelson is two clear of the field. K.H. Lee took the early clubhouse lead with a 66 and was joined there late in the day by Keegan Bradley, who finished second last week in the Valspar Championship. A large group at 67 included Tommy Fleetwood and Gary Woodland.

Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy, each playing for the first time since the Masters, turned in scores of 70 and 72, respectively.

Mickelson birdied five of six holes in one stretch. His iron play was spot on, but it was a 2-wood – a 11.5-degree 2-wood head he’s using as his 3-wood – that had him excited. But he was most pleased with his attention span.

“Just focus,” Mickelson said about the difference from Thursday and last week’s missed cut in the Valspar Championship. “I’m just present on each shot. This 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.

Phil Mickelson putts for a birdie on 18 during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

“That’s been a real struggle for me the last few years because physically, there’s nothing physically 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, just simply not being mentally sharp.”

As for the “mini driver head” for his 3-wood, as he called it, Mickelson said is allows him to control the ball much better without sacrificing distance.

“Because the fairways are so firm, if I hit it low enough, I’m able to get a lot of chase out of it,” he said. “So that allows me to kind of keep my misses a lot tighter. Today I hit it very successful, I hit a lot of good shots with it. My misses that I did miss weren’t as far offline and I was able to salvage pars.

“But that club has allowed me to kind of get it in play and then let my irons take over. My irons have always been the strength of my game, I just haven’t been able to use them enough. But that club’s working really well around here.”

Mickelson has done some really fine work around Quail Hollow despite not winning here. In 16 starts, he has 10 top-10s – eight of them top-5s – and signed for just 13 rounds over par in 65 played. His 64 Thursday fell one shot shy of his best score here – a 63 in the third round in 2014.

“The course has a great mixture of holes – great birdie opportunities and some really tough holes. That keeps my attention,” he said.

Dahmen played really well around Quail Hollow, too. Playing for the first time with Mickelson – Dahmen called it a bucket list item – he shot 68. Watching Mickelson play impressed him just as much if not more.

Lesson learned 😏 pic.twitter.com/WgjiWmB3hM

— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) May 6, 2021

“Phil’s awesome. He’s a great guy,” Dahmen said. “He’s just so full of information, would be the way to put it. He’s got great stories. He’s really fun to play with. So I poked him a little bit and he played awesome today. It was incredible.

“We got in some dopamine talk, frontal lobe and dopamine, and then the units of it, which I was actually impressed with. Then he hit a 6‑iron to three feet, so he must have had his dopamine correct on that one.”

He had whatever was working correctly on a lot of iron shots.

“The iron play today was incredible,” Dahmen said. “I don’t know what the stats are going to show, but he hit so many great shots inside of what seemed like six feet, and obviously he can chip it and pitch it unbelievably, and he made all his putts today. He has this new 2‑wood thing. He was kind of hitting his dink cut, he was calling it, past my driver all day and that’s impressive.

“If he plays like this, he can play anywhere at any time against anybody.”

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