LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) Phil Mickelson is set to play in the CareerBuilder Challenge, returning from two sports hernia surgeries a week earlier than he originally expected.
”I feel good and I want to play,” Mickelson said Wednesday in a statement. ”I don’t know where my game is, but I figure the only way to find out is to play.”
He’ll face an unusual wet and chilly start in the desert, with rain expected overnight and Thursday morning and then again Friday. The forecast high for Thursday was 62 degrees, dipping to 59 on Friday.
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The 46-year-old Mickelson had surgery Oct. 19 – three days after tying for eighth in the season-opening Safeway Open – and again Dec. 12. He has been hitting balls for a week and played a practice round Wednesday.
In his first year as the tournament ambassador, Mickelson stuck to his normal routine of playing and practicing at The Madison Club instead of one of the three tournament courses. He wasn’t available for comment beyond his short statement.
The Hall of Famer was scheduled to open Thursday morning at La Quinta Country Club, then head to PGA West to play the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course on Friday, the Stadium Course on Saturday and, if he makes the cut, the final round Sunday.
Mickelson won the 2002 and 2004 events and tied for third last year. Winless since the 2013 British Open, the 42-time PGA Tour winner plans to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week in his hometown of San Diego and the Waste Management Phoenix Open the following week.
Jason Dufner won last year, beating David Lingmerth with a par on the second hole of a playoff.
”Possibly going to have some weather issues this week, which will make it a little bit more challenging,” Dufner said. ”But just excited to be back, excited to be back playing again. Took some time off at the end of the year, so played a couple weeks in Hawaii.”
Patrick Reed is the top-ranked player in the field at No. 9. He won the 2014 tournament.
”I never played here when it rained before; it’s always sunny and beautiful and perfect,” Reed said. ”The golf courses aren’t that long, by the numbers, but if it starts getting cold, now the ball’s not traveling. If it gets wet, ball’s not going to travel, either. Then also, if it’s raining while you’re playing, not having that friction on the golf club, the ball’s not going to go as far as well. So, it’s just going to make it a lot longer.”
In 2014, he shot 63-63-63-71 to break the PGA Tour record for relation to par for the first 54 holes at 27 under and become the first player in tour history to open with three rounds of 63 or better. Two other PGA West courses were used that year in the pro-am event.
”These two golf courses are harder than the other two,” Reed said. ”And I don’t think it’s as much as length as it is you can get away with some golf shots on the other ones. Here, you can get penalized for hitting a poor tee shot or poor iron shot. And the biggest difference I feel like is for the amateurs. The amateurs over there, they could hit some loose shots and they’re fine. Over here, when they hit a loose shot, they’re really struggling and it just seems to make the rounds a little longer. And now if you’re adding weather, some of these amateurs are going to struggle.”
Brendan Steele, the Safeway Open winner from nearby Idyllwild, played the PGA West courses as a junior. He also played in a rain-plagued Golden State two-man team event.
”That two-man team event, it actually dumped and we got cut down to 27 holes and barely got in nine holes the second day,” Steele said. ”So, it was really, really bad. So, I have seen them that way. I may be one of the few guys in the field that has seen them that way.”