A focused Phil Mickelson leads the Wells Fargo Championship: Can he win again at 50?

The veteran American carded a brilliant 7-under-par 64 to grab an early two shot advantage over the field at Quail Hollow.

The old showman is back where he likes it: in the spotlight, cracking gags and dazzling the audience.

Is it a mere cameo appearance, a fleeting reminder of past glories?

Or is he on track to produce something a little more substantial?

That's right, with an opening lap of 7-under-par 65 Phil Mickelson finds himself two shots clear of the field at the Wells Fargo Championship.

It was vintage Mickelson: a little bit of science, a touch of over-thinking, a lot of good shots, a couple of bad ones, a handful of sensational efforts, and a few goofy smiles.

He started birdie-bogey, in the middle of his round he made five par breakers in six holes, and he closed the circuit with a final birdie brace to leap clear of the chasers.

It was his first time he had grabbed the early lead since the start of 2019 and gives him a great shot at landing a first top 20 finish for the season in his 14th start.

But can he achieve more than that?

It represents his 30th PGA Tour first round lead (or share of the lead) and he's won nine times from such a situation, most recently in the 2013 Phoenix Open, but he also went wire-to-wire on his Champions Tour debut last August.

It's a tough task, however.

In all 30 men have lead/co-lead after 18 holes at this tournament and only two completed the win.

The flipside is that Mickelson was in very upbeat mode after his round and a glance at the leaderboard won't frighten him.

Kyoung-Hoon Lee and Keegan Bradley trail him in a tie for second after 66s with Peter Malnati, Tommy Fleetwood, Luke List, Gary Woodland, Keith Mitchell and Kyle Stanley sharing fourth following 67s.

There's quality there, but nothing Mickelson need be afraid of.

And then there's his record at Quail Hollow - he loves the place.

In 16 visits he's landed 12 finishes of T12th or better, eight of them top fives.

He's also 6-for-9 at finishing top five after shooting 70 or better in the opening round.

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And what about the possibility that he wants to prove a point? Among the many words written about the Saudi-backed PGL this week were many which suggested that Mickelson was most interested because his winning days on the PGA Tour are over. He wouldn't be the first golfer to bridle at such a notion.

The 10/1 at Paddy Power, still paying six places, will therefore interest many.

Let's take a look at how he saw the first day - and also get his playing partner Joel Dahmen's thoughts.

Mickelson on his improved form after missing the cut last week

"It's just focus. I'm just present on each shot. This course holds my attention.

"I've been doing some mental exercises and so forth just to try to get my focus to elongate over five hours and so forth. That's been a real struggle for me the last few years because there's nothing physically holding me back from playing at a high level, but you cannot make mistakes.

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"The guys out here are just so good, and I've been making a lot of errors, just simply not being mentally sharp."

Mickelson on his 2-wood - his secret weapon for the week

"It's kind of a mini-driver head that I use as a strong 3-wood and out here, because the fairways are so firm, if I hit it low enough, I'm able to get a lot of chase out of it and I don't feel like I'm sacrificing any distance. So that allows me to keep my misses a lot tighter.

"And you know what? I really couldn't use it last week at Innisbrook. There, you're trying to fly bunkers and fly the corner. But this course sets up very well for it.

"I hit a lot of good shots with it. My misses weren't as far offline and I was able to salvage pars. It allows me to get the ball in play and then let my irons take over. My irons have always been the strength of my game, I just haven't been able to use them enough.

Mickelson on playing with Dahmen and Lanto Griffin

"I love the banter. I think it's funny and it kept the atmosphere in our group really light. We laughed a bunch. We had some fun things to talk about, but we were laughing even before we teed off.

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"I like how he's able to laugh, have fun with the game of golf and not take it too serious. Lanto's the same way, we had a really fun group."

Dahmen on Mickelson the playing partner

"Phil's awesome. Obviously he played great today, so that was even better. I got caught up with watching the show there on the front nine when he started making birdies. But he's a great guy. He's just so full of information would be the way to put it. He's got great stories. He's really fun to play with."

Dahmen on Mickelson's golf

"The iron play today was incredible. I don't know what the stats are going to show, but he hit so many great shots inside of it seemed like six feet, and obviously he can chip it and pitch it unbelievably, and then he made all his putts today.

"He has this new 2-wood thing, I'm sure he'll talk about it. He was kind of hitting this dink cut he was calling it, he was hitting it past my driver all day and that's impressive. If he plays like this, he can play anywhere at anytime against anybody."

The stats

The Strokes Gained stats back up what Mickelson and Dahmen said.

Mickelson gained 2.741 strokes with his approach play (seventh in the field), 1.559 from the tee (eighth) and 1.694 around the greens (13th). It all added up to 5.993 Tee to Green (first).

Gaining 1.852 on the greens ranked him 21st, but with a Putting Average of 1.429 he was second in that category.

Traditionally he has struggled in round two at Quail Hollow: he average 71.06 in his career and 74.00 in his last three visits.

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