Mickelson said his back “locked up” after he hit his second shot on the North Course’s par-5 18th, his ninth hole of the day. Around the turn, Mickelson considering withdrawing but managed to record a 3-under 69. He is five shots off the first-round lead.
“I’m hopeful I can play (Friday),” he said, “but I don’t want to do anything stupid here. I want to make sure I’m healthy and I don’t get into swing habits because I’m having a bit of tightening.”
Mickelson, 43, said this discomfort is unrelated to his injury last week in Abu Dhabi, where he tweaked his back hitting out of long rough. This pain, he said, was more of a “muscular thing.”
After a normal practice session Thursday, Mickelson said his back tightened up and he had “trouble firing from the top; it just kind of locked up.” From there, he said, “I kind of milked my way around and was able to salvage a score.”
Mickelson said he was fortunate to have started the week on the more forgiving North Course, which played nearly four strokes easier on Day 1 than the South, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open. Mickelson birdied Nos. 18 and 1, then birdied two of his last three holes to post 69.
In the past he has done little to hide his distaste for the South, post-Rees Jones re-do, which may make his decision whether to continue playing a little easier. If he was forced to withdraw, Mickelson said, it wouldn’t “be the end of the world.”
A San Diego native, Mickelson is a three-time winner of this event, but he hasn’t won since 2001.
“I’ll work on it tonight; we’ll see how it goes,” said Mickelson, who is scheduled to defend his title at next week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. “It’s the start of the season, so I don’t want to do anything stupid here. I don’t think it’s anything serious. I just couldn’t go after it today.”