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Phil Mickelson just misses shooting 59

Phil Mickelson had every right to believe his birdie putt for a 59 was going to go in the hole . . . until it didn’t.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Phil Mickelson had every right to believe his birdie putt for a 59 was going to go in the hole . . . until it didn’t.

Phil Mickelson pointed his putter at the cup and started to walk toward the hole, ready to celebrate golf’s magic number.

Right at the end, though, the ball caught the right edge of the cup, curled 180 degrees and stayed out. A fraction of inch turned cheers to gasps and cost him a 59 Thursday in the first round of the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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‘‘Six feet to go, it was in the center,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘Three feet to go, it was in the center. A foot to go, it was in the center, and even as it’s approaching the hole, I couldn’t envision which side of the hole it could possibly miss on, and it ended up somehow just dying off at the end, catching the lip.’’

His caddie, Jim Mackay, fell to his knees and stayed there several seconds.

‘‘He could not have hit a better putt,’’ Mackay said.

Playing partners Jason Dufner and Rickie Fowler also watched in disbelief when the 25-foot birdie putt lipped out.

‘‘Unlucky,’’ Dufner said. ‘‘He was walking it in.’’

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‘‘I thought it was in,’’ Fowler said. ‘‘I was pulling for him.’’

Mickelson settled for an 11-under 60 at TPC Scottsdale, matching the tournament record he already shared with Grant Waite and Mark Calcavecchia.

‘‘Well, 60 is awesome,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘Last time I shot 60 here in ’05, I birdied like the last three or four holes just to do that, and I was ecstatic, and I'm ecstatic to shoot 60. But there’s a big difference between 60 and 59. Not that big between 60 and 61, there really isn't. But there’s a big barrier, a Berlin Wall barrier, between 59 and 60.

Seeking his third victory in the event, Mickelson had a four-stroke lead over Ryan Palmer, Brandt Snedeker, Padraig Harrington, Ted Potter Jr., and Jeff Maggert when play was suspended because of darkness in the round that started an hour late because of frost.

Mickelson struggled in his first two events of the season — tying for 37th at La Quinta and 51st at Torrey Pines — and caused a sensation by talking about tax increases.

‘‘It was a matter of time before he started getting something going,’’ Mackay said.

Five players have shot 59 in official PGA Tour events. Al Geiberger did it in the 1977 Memphis Classic, Chip Beck in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, David Duval in the 1999 Bob Hope Invitational, Paul Goydos in the 2010 John Deere Classic and Stuart Appleby in the 2010 Greenbrier Classic.

Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa had the lowest round on a major tour, shooting a 12-under 58 to win the 2010 Crowns on the Japan Tour.

Bo Van Pelt had a 59 in the pro-am Wednesday at TPC Scottsdale, a round that Mickelson watched closely from the group behind.

European — Richard Sterne nearly broke the course record at the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates, shooting 10-under 62 in the first round to finish one shot ahead of Stephen Gallacher.

The 165th-ranked South African, who has struggled in recent years with back problems, started with three birdies on his first four holes. Sterne was on pace to break the course record of 61 set by Ernie Els in 1994, but couldn’t convert late birdie chances.

Scott Jamieson, Chris Doak, and Tommy Fleetwood shot 65s.

Paul Casey was another stroke back, while Mark O’Meara and Lee Westwood shot 67s. Sergio Garcia, who finished second last week in Qatar, had a 68.

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