PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The changes made to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass led many in the field at The Players Championship to get in some extra early-week practice. But when you’ve been showing up here as long as Phil Mickelson has, you can play it blind and still contend.
Mickelson eschewed any practice rounds, so the first time he saw the course since the renovations was during his opening 18. It was a Mickelsonian effort – an eagle 3 on par-5 16th, a double bogey-5 on the par-3 third – but in the end it added up to a 2-under 70 that left him three shots behind William McGirt.
“The course really isn’t that different,” Mickelson said. “No. 12 is a little bit different, but I’ve played here 25 years, so it’s not like that one round was going to make a big difference. I just felt like I wanted to conserve energy and sharpen my game.”
Mickelson had planned to play the course Tuesday, but decided to take the day off after a Monday outing left him “just a little tired.” He thought about playing on Wednesday, but opted against given the steamy temperatures that exceeded 90 degrees.
Approaching his 47th birthday, Mickelson is cognizant of the fact that tournament play takes more of a physical toll on him than it did in his prime.
“The issue I’ve had this year is I’ve not finished rounds off strong, I’ve not finished the tournaments off strong,” he said. “So I want to make sure that I'm rested going in. I’m minimizing a lot of the other outside stuff that I do throughout the week in an effort to be a little bit sharper throughout the four days.”
Mickelson won this event in 2007 but has struggled recently, missing the cut at this event each of the last four years. Despite taking an unconventional approach to his tournament prep, he’s now in position to do more than just play the weekend.
“I’m happy because I’ve been a lot worse the last few years, so under par is good,” he said. “Sure, I made some mistakes, but you’re going to do that here. That’s going to happen. So I thought I did a good job of letting it go and coming back with some birdies.”