Moore takes 2-shot lead at CIMB Classic
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Ryan Moore is glad the PGA Tour season is starting a little earlier this year at two tournaments where he loves to play.
Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, is at a loss to explain what the problem with his game is at the moment.
Moore had 10 birdies to shoot a 9-under 63 and take a two-shot lead Thursday after the opening round of the CIMB Classic, the third event on the PGA Tour’s new wraparound season this year.
The American is coming off a top-10 finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas last weekend — a tournament he won last fall. He has now had five consecutive rounds under 70 to start the new season.
“It was really just a huge bonus that (the season) starts now,” Moore said. “These are events like Vegas, that’s home for me, and then this event which I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of years. They’re events I would play anyway so just the fact that they count, that’s huge.”
Keegan Bradley had seven birdies to finish two strokes behind in second place at 7-under 65, and Sergio Garcia was another shot behind at 6 under.
Mickelson was in a share of 21st place after two errant drives off the tee - one into waist-high birds-of-paradise fringing the fairway, the other into the water - led to double-bogeys and an overall score of 1-under 71.
Playing for the first time since the Presidents Cup, he said his swing is as bad as it’s been “in a long time.”
“I’m swinging awful. I’m swinging terribly at the ball,” he said. “The lead for me right now is irrelevant. It’s so far off that that’s the last thing on my mind because I just don’t know where the ball is going.”
Mickelson said he’s been trying to correct the problem since just after his victory at the British Open, without much success.
“After I took a week off, I came back and (swing coach) Butch (Harmon) and I worked at the PGA and the Tour Championship. And we just haven’t been able to get it figured out, and it’s just a little bit — it’s way off right now. It’s as far off as it’s ever been,” Mickelson said.
He’s so frustrated he doesn’t even think extra practice would help at this point.
“I would go hit balls, but I don’t know what to do to try to fix it,” he said.
It was a tough day for defending champion Nick Watney and Ernie Els, as well.
Watney, who was paired with Mickelson in one of the last groups on the course, started the day with two bogeys on his first three holes and never fully recovered, ending up in a share of 65th place at 3 over.
“Pretty much everything went wrong. I putted terribly, didn’t drive the ball into the fairway enough,” he said. “I’m disappointed, especially coming this far to play poorly.”
Els, also playing for the first time since his team lost the Presidents Cup, slumped to 70th place at 4 over after a quadruple-bogey on the 14th hole.
Bradley, meanwhile, could hardly have played better. In fact, he said it was one of his best rounds of the year.
He attributes his good form to taking just a short break after the Presidents Cup and getting back to the course quickly.
“I wanted to be prepared for this tournament so I worked pretty hard the last couple weeks,” Bradley said. “I want to be a more consistent player out here. I want to win more. Most importantly, I want to contend at the majors and play better at the majors.
“I feel like there’s no time to waste. I really want to get off to a fast start.”
Garcia is also looking for his first PGA Tour win since the Wyndham Championship in August 2012. He got some advice on the eve of the CIMB Classic from an unlikely source — Malaysia’s Queen, Sultanah Haminah Hamidun.
Garcia played with the queen in the Pro-Am event in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
“I didn’t know what to expect when it comes down to royalty but she was very, very relaxed. Very chill,” he said.
And when he hit an off shot, she gave him some encouragement that may have helped on Thursday.
“She said, ‘Nah, tomorrow you’ll hit it right. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,’” Garcia said.
The $7 million CIMB Classic is the first official U.S. PGA Tour event in Asia, meaning it will count as an official victory for the first time and award FedEx Cup points. This has helped attract a top field, though Tiger Woods, who tied for fourth place last year, and Rory McIlroy are skipping the event.