LOS ANGELES • As a three-time winner of the Phoenix Open and having attended nearby Arizona State University on a golf scholarship, Phil Mickelson has a real connection with the "special place".
And, after making a record 30th start in the event and going on to shoot a three-under 68 on Thursday, four strokes behind first-round joint-leader and fellow American Justin Thomas, five-time Major winner felt he had "an okay start" at an event he last won in 2013.
Mickelson, 48, who is seeking his 500th official cut on the PGA Tour and a record fourth triumph at TPC Scottsdale, said: "I shot three under and to birdie the last feels good too, so it was a good way to finish.
"The time has really flown by... 30 years, gosh.
"I remember when I was in college, it doesn't seem that long ago that I was playing in my first Phoenix Open.
"What a great feeling I experienced with the crowd and the many memories that I've had here."
The tournament is the only event on the Tour's West Coast swing that does not take place in California and, like the left-handed Mickelson, Thomas has his eye set on beating a field featuring 10 of the top-30 players in the world, after ending tied for 17th last year and twice missing the cut.
The 2017 PGA Championship winner drained four straight birdies to post a 64 to finish in a tie with compatriots Rickie Fowler and Harold Varner.
Thomas also had six birdies in seven holes, although he admitted his performance was harder than it looked as "it was very, very hard to get the balls close to the pin early in the round".
The world No. 4, who is the only top-five golfer not playing in this week's Saudi Invitational, added: "But I just continued to try to stay patient and was driving it well to where I had wedges and I made some very low-stress birdies.
"I was very in control of everything tee to green.
"I didn't necessarily get off to the greatest start score-wise, but felt I was playing well.
Thrice Major runner-up Fowler eagled the par-five 13th as part of a four-under score for his first eight holes, while Varner had three birdies in his final six holes.
American J.T. Poston and Scotland's Martin Laird are both one shot back after shooting 65s.
The organisers have put Mickelson, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who has prevailed in a play-off in two of the past three years, and defending champion Gary Woodland together for the first two rounds as the trio have won the event a combined half-dozen times.
Matsuyama shot a 68 and American Woodland is also on three under, aided by a burst of three straight birdies on the back nine.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS