SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — His back allowed him to come back, but at the moment he’s well back of the leaders.
Phil Mickelson opened defense of his Waste Management Phoenix Open championship with an even-par 71 at the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course.
Starting on the back nine, Mickelson double-bogeyed the 12th hole, but he recovered with consecutive birdies on holes 13 and 14. The former ASU Sun Devil would add three more birdies over his next six holes, putting him at minus-three.
Mickelson then got into trouble.
“The game just was a little rusty,” he said. “I just made some careless swings. Hitting it in the water on 12 was just pathetic, and then playing the last five holes in three-over when I had the round going…that was really bad.”
There was some question as to whether or not Mickelson would even compete this week. He injured his back during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last week and was forced to withdraw.
Mickelson flew to Georgia to visit his back specialist, who diagnosed and treated the five-time major winner for locked facet joints in his lower back.
“It’s frustrating, too, to finish that way because I physically feel good,” he said of bogeying the 5th, 7th and 9th holes to end his first round. “I feel like my game is sharp even though I haven’t been able to practice too much. I felt like it was going to be a good day, a good tournament and to let those shots slide is disappointing. I’ve got to come out (Friday) and get a really hot round going to get back in this.”
Mickelson said he practiced for about an hour-and-half at Whisper Rock Golf Club after arriving in town Wednesday and felt no discomfort in his back.
“Honestly, it’s no big deal,” he said. “It was a five-minute fix. I just have to be careful for a week or two as it heals up. It’s fine. Mobility is back. It’s just not a big deal…I just didn’t play well.”
Mickelson is one of four players (Mark Calcavecchia, Gene Littler and Arnold Palmer) to win this tournament three times. However, if he is to become the first four-time champion and first back-to-back winner since Johnny Miller in 1974-75, he knows he must play better.
“Game doesn’t feel far off,” Mickelson said. “There’s that low round out there. There was one last year (when he carded an 11-under-60 in the opening round), and I just need one of those again.”