Mickelson ‘feels fine’ at Phoenix Open but needs ‘hot round’

Phil Mickelson is seven strokes back after shooting an even-par 71 Thursday in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Allan Henry

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Defending champion Phil Mickelson entered Thursday’s first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open surrounded by questions of whether his back, which forced him to withdraw from a tournament last weekend, would hold up as he tried for his fourth title at TPC Scottsdale.

The only thing bothering Mickelson on Thursday, though, was his own play.

After starting strong getting to 3 under par, Mickelson faltered on the back nine to finish the day at even-par 71 and seven strokes off the lead.

"It’s frustrating to finish that way because I physically feel good," Mickelson said. "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, good tournament. To let those shots slide is disappointing. I’ve got to come out tomorrow and get a really hot round going to get back in this."

Mickelson’s early play might have led some to believe he was feeling discomfort in his lower back, which was treated this week for locked facet joints. After a pair of pars, Mickelson had a double bogey on his third hole of the day.

After turning things around with five birdies over the next 10 holes, Mickelson felt good about where he stood at 3-under. His next hole, the fifth on the course, brought the first of three bogeys to finish the round.

"The game was just a little rusty," Mickelson said. "I made some careless swings. Hitting into the water on 12 was just pathetic. Then playing the last five holes 3-over when I had the round going … that was really bad."

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Of just as much interest as Mickelson’s performance in his post-round media session was how his back felt through the round. Mickelson spent an hour or so practicing Wednesday at nearby Whisper Rock Golf Club and felt well enough to play his 25th Phoenix Open.

"Honestly, it’s no big deal," Mickelson insisted Thursday. "It was a five-minute fix. I just have to be careful for a week or two as it heals up, and it’s fine. It’s not a big deal. I just didn’t play well."

While last year saw Mickelson take a commanding lead in the first round as he nearly shot a 59, this year will see the Arizona State alum chasing the leaders as the tournament rolls toward the weekend.

But Mickelson expressed confidence he could conjure up a strong round Friday to climb the leaderboard.

"My game doesn’t feel far off, and there’s that low round out there," Mickelson said. "There was one last year, and I just need one of those again."

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