So much for injury concerns.
Unsure earlier in the week if he would even play, Phil Mickelson leaned heavily on his trusty short game during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, birdieing his final hole to shoot 4-under 68 at La Quinta Country Club.
"I thought it was phenomenal," said Mickelson, who converted six of seven scrambling opportunities. "I struck it horrible but I scored out of my mind, so I'm very happy with it."
Mickelson's last competitive start came at the Safeway Open in October, and a pair of surgeries to repair a sports hernia followed. According to Mickelson's agent, the 46-year-old didn't return to hitting balls until Jan. 12 and Mickelson stated that he wasn't sure he would tee it up until Tuesday night.
But this has been a happy hunting ground over the years for Mickelson, and it proved true once again during Thursday's opener. Mickelson birdied four holes in a six-hole stretch from Nos. 4-9 to make the turn in 32 and gave the crowds reason to cheer with a chip-in par on No. 16.
He didn't drop a shot until the par-4 17th, then promptly responded with a birdie on the last to climb back within four shots of leader Dominic Bozzelli.
"Game is rusty, but body feels good," he said. "There's no better place to learn and get better than to come out here on these great golf courses and put it to the test."
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West for the second round, followed by a trip around the Stadium Course on Saturday. A winner here in 2002 and 2004, Mickelson remains in search of his first PGA Tour win since lifting the claret jug at the 2013 Open.