It took exactly one round of the new season for Phil Mickelson to reach "peak Lefty" mode.
There were hole-outs. There were chip-ins. There was promise, and ultimately a bit of regression. But it all added up to a 4-under 68 for Mickelson in the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, a score that left him four shots off the early pace in his first competitive action since the Presidents Cup.
"It was a fun start to the year," Mickelson said. "I've had a lot of time off, it was fun to get back into the swing of it. We had a beautiful day here, the weather's spectacular, the golf course was great and I had a good, solid round."
When Mickelson made the turn at La Quinta Country Club, he appeared to be trending toward something a bit better than "solid." After two-putt birdies on Nos. 5 and 6, Mickelson jarred a wedge from inside 100 yards for an eagle on No. 8, then chipped in for birdie on No. 9.
Following another birdie on the par-5 11th, he reached 6 under and briefly held a share of the lead. But a disappointing, three-putt par on No. 13 was followed by a bogey on the next hole and after turning in 5-under 31, Lefty came home in 1-over 37.
"Today although the score was OK, a lot of the little, subtle 9-irons and wedges were just a fraction off. The amount of draw, the amount of fade and so forth," Mickelson said. "I feel like I have the right direction, and it's starting to feel a lot easier."
Mickelson split with longtime swing coach Butch Harmon during the offseason, tabbing Australian Andrew Getson as his new instructor. According to Mickelson, the pair have worked extensively on getting his swing back on plane after Mickelson missed the Tour Championship each of the last two seasons and has yet to win since the 2013 Open Championship.
"Because I have been a little bit off-plane, my release and all of those intricate feelings that I have to create shots, they have not been creating those shots," he said. "So now the swing is back on plane and I’m just working on touch, trying to get the fine-tuning of feeling the subtleties and the nuances of hitting those shots, which I have been struggling with the last couple years."
Despite the rocky finish, Lefty remained pleased with his opening-round results as he now heads to the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West for his second round.
"I think today was a good example where I drove the ball easy," he said. "It didn't feel hard, I didn't feel like I was struggling or fighting to get it in play. I could just swing."