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Mickelson scoring trend keeps him close

DORAL, Fla. -- For all of his accomplishments in a Hall of Fame career that has spanned 25 years, there are a few somewhat glaring omissions from Phil Mickelson's résumé.

He has never been No. 1 in the world.

He has never been PGA Tour player of the year.

He has never led the PGA Tour in scoring average.

For a guy with 42 victories, including five major championships, that is a bit surprising, although a guy named Tiger Woods had something to do it.

And yet, now at age 45, Mickelson leads the tour with the lowest scoring average. Granted, it's early -- just 18 rounds for Mickelson in the 2015-16 season heading into the first day of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

His opening score certainly won't hurt.

Mickelson shot 5-under-par 67 on Thursday on the Blue Monster course at Trump National Resort, a score that will certainly do nothing but help that 69.033 adjusted scoring average.

"I think it's a key round because I knew I've been playing well, and the only place I struggled last week [at the Honda Classic] was on the greens reading them,'' Mickelson said. "So I knew I had been playing well, and you want to get off to a quick start so you don't have to force the issue later on.''

It continued a trend of fast starts for Mickelson in 2016. This is his sixth tournament, with all of the opening rounds in the 60s. But the Doral score was the lowest in relation to par and put him in third place, a stroke behind leaders Scott Piercy and Marcus Fraser.

Mickelson has talked at length early this season about the difficult decision to switch coaches in the offseason, parting with longtime instructor Butch Harmon in favor of Andrew Getson, an Arizona-based teacher who is from Australia.

Lefty had become frustrated with his performances over the past few years, having gone the longest stretch of his career without winning. His last victory came at the 2013 Open, and he decided if an overhaul wasn't necessary, certainly a new direction was in order.

Mickelson sought to get his swing path to his satisfaction and often explains it by talking about the divot pattern of his shots. In simple terms, those divots are flying straight toward the target, which is a good sign in a more complicated endeavor.

"It was months in the offseason trying to get it right,'' Mickelson said. "Fortunately I wasn't playing in tournaments when I was going through it, because the [swing] path had changed so much ... and I ended up hitting terrible shots for a couple of months.

"I had been so manipulative [with his hands] through impact because the plane had been off, and now it's very subtle. Now I have to do very little to get the ball to fade or draw.''

Mickelson has three top-11 finishes this year, including a near miss at Pebble Beach, where he finished a shot behind Vaughn Taylor after missing a 5-footer on the final green that would have forced a playoff.

Given the way Mickelson has been hitting the ball this year, he figures to have a chance over the weekend if he can hold his putting together. He pointed to that last week at the Honda Classic, where he fell off the pace after an opening-round 69.

But Mickelson had little to complain about on Thursday. He birdied three of the four par-5s and made just two bogeys -- including the par-4 18th, his ninth of the day. He hit 13 greens in regulation and took just 25 putts.

And he scored better than all in the vaunted threesome of Jordan Spieth (69), Jason Day (72) and Rory McIlroy (71) -- the top three players in the world.

"The ball, the scorecard, they don't know the difference in age,'' he said. "It's a fun challenge for me to get back to competing at the highest level.''