Mickelson hails spike mark rule change after strong opening to Masters

Phil Mickelson felt this year’s rule change regarding spike marks proved significant as the first-round leaderboard at the Masters was topped by a host of late starters on day one.

Mickelson was among several members of the afternoon wave to shine at Augusta on Thursday, shooting a five-under 67 to trail leaders Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau by a single stroke.

Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter went around in 68 to ensure the top five was made up entirely of people who went out later in the day.

“Usually in the afternoon, you see the scores [are] not as good, but I think one of the biggest factors that has contributed to the scores being more even between morning and afternoon is the ability to tap down spike marks,” Mickelson told reporters after his round, referring to a rule amendment enforced in 2019 that means players can now smooth over spike marks to the putting green.

“Being able to smooth it out a little bit has made a world of difference and I think it takes away a lot of that luck factor. It’s been a really good thing.

“The greens maintained their softness … and they’re not as fast as they normally are. Maybe the weather had something to do with it.

“It allowed us to attack pins, get the ball stopped and be much more aggressive putting, so I think you saw a lot of putts made.”

Mickelson – a three-time winner at Augusta – described his opening round, which was highlighted by a sensational tee shot at the par-three 16th, as a “lot of fun”.

Poulter was similarly upbeat, adding: “My whole game was together, from the first hole to the 18th hole.”

The Englishman continued: “I only missed two greens in regulation, I think. One of them was nine. I made bogey there. And the other green I missed I was kind of 12 feet from the pin and just on the fringe.

“My putting all around was extremely solid. I need to do that over the next few days.”