LA QUINTA, Calif. — Michael Putnam made nine birdies in an 11-hole stretch Thursday and finished with a 9-under 63 to take a one-stroke lead in the Humana Challenge.
In ideal conditions in the Coachella Valley, Putnam birdied Nos. 7, 9 and 10 on PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Private Course and ran off six in a row on Nos. 12-17.
“The course is in perfect shape,” Putnam said. “Greens are good. ... I made a lot of birdies at the end. Hit a lot of close shots, a lot of 5-, 10-foot putts. I made them all, so I got to be happy about that.”
Phil Mickelson had a 71 at La Quinta Country Club in his first event since the Ryder Cup.
“It was the first round in four months and I’ll loosen up,” Mickelson said. “Hopefully, the way I’m playing will show in the score. But today, it just didn’t.”
Mark Wilson, Blake Adams, former LSU golfer John Peterson, Francesco Molinari and Scott Pinckney were tied for second at 64. Wilson, Adams and Peterson played the Nicklaus course; Molinari opened on the Arnold Palmer Private Course and Pinckney was at La Quinta.
The 40-year-old Wilson won the 2012 tournament for the last of his five PGA Tour titles.
“I came in feeling OK, nothing great about the game, but it was ideal today,” Wilson said. “I made some saves when I needed it and capitalized on my good shots.”
Adams made his first start in his comeback from hip replacement surgery. He last played a tour event in March and had surgery in July. Playing on a major medical extension, he has 16 events to earn $497,044 to keep his tour card.
Defending champion Patrick Reed, who play at University High in Baton Rouge, had a 65 at La Quinta. He’s coming off a playoff victory over Jimmy Walker two weeks ago in Hawaii in the Tournament of Champions.
Last year, Reed shot three 63s to open a seven-shot lead and closed with a 71 for a two-stroke victory. He broke the PGA Tour record for relation to par for the first 54 holes at 27 under and became the first player to open with three rounds of 63 or better.
“I feel like I left a lot out there, but it’s always good to shoot 7 under,” Reed said. “My confidence is as high as it could be and the main thing is just not getting ahead of myself and not really being over-confident where I take too many unnecessary risks.”
Playing partner Matt Kuchar, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 11 in the world, also had a 65. He closed with a bogey.
“This course here, La Quinta, is fantastic,” Kuchar said. “Fun course, challenging, tight off the tees and in great shape. The greens are just spectacular.”
Mickelson made a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 third, holed out for birdie from a greenside bunker on the par-4 fourth and made a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 sixth. After dropping shots on Nos. 12, 14 and 16, he hit a wedge to 2 feet for birdie on the par-4 17th.
“Even though this score is the worst I’ve had in a long time, in months, I’m excited about my game and getting back out tomorrow,” Mickelson said. “I can’t wait to get started again, because I just feel like I played a little tight today, kind of steered it a little bit.”
The 44-year-old Mickelson, the 2002 and 2004 champion, is winless in 27 PGA Tour starts since the 2013 British Open. He has lost weight and gained strength working with trainer Sean Cochran during the long break from competition.
“My body hasn’t felt this good in years,” Mickelson said.
FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel, playing alongside Mickelson at La Quinta, also had a 71. He had three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine.
“Very sloppy,” Horschel said. “I didn’t hit it as good as I have the last couple days.”