South Korean Y.E. Yang birdied six of his last nine holes, and Bubba Watson birdied four of his last six for a share of the lead at 7-under-par 64 after the first round of the Phoenix Open on Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Phil Mickelson’s back was better, although his score didn’t reflect it, as he launched his title defense with an even-par 71. He was forced to pull out of the event in La Jolla, Calif., last weekend because of a balky back.
Yang, 42, mixed eight birdies with a lone bogey in dazzling desert sunshine. He took advantage of ideal scoring conditions at TPC Scottsdale and signed off with a superb approach to 3 feet at the par-4 final hole before sinking the birdie putt.
Yang, who has not recorded a single top-10 on the U.S. circuit since he tied for sixth at The Barclays in 2011, was delighted with his uptick in form.
“I have been playing like you-know-what for a long time now,” he told PGATour.com through an interpreter. “I have been adjusting my swing for a long time ... and I think it’s finally paying off.”
Yang’s lead held up most of the day until he was joined at the top by 2012 Masters champion Watson.
“This golf course, if your ball-striking is good, you can shoot some good numbers here,” Watson said after hitting 17 greens in regulation.
Americans Pat Perez, Kevin Stadler, William McGirt, Harris English and Chris Kirk, along with Australians Greg Chalmers and Matt Jones, were one shot back after opening with 65s. Ten players were unable to finish the first round and will complete it Friday.
MCILROY ON TOP IN DUBAI
Rory McIlroy took another step toward regaining his form with his lowest score in more than three years — a 9-under 63 — while playing with Tiger Woods to take a two-shot lead in the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates.
McIlroy played bogey-free in ideal scoring conditions on the Maglis course at Emirates Golf Club, picking up six birdies and an eagle during a 10-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He upstaged Woods, who was five shots back after a 68.
Edoardo Molinari made an eagle on the par-4 second hole on his way to a 65. The group at 66 included Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion.