SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Phil Mickelson effortlessly bounded up the hill behind TPC Scottsdale’s ninth green early Thursday afternoon, that familiar perma-grin still affixed to his face despite a final-hole bogey.
The bad news was that it concluded an opening round of even-par 71, 11 strokes higher than his first day here at the Waste Management Phoenix Open a year ago. The good news was that any sign of a lingering back injury had melted away under the desert sun.
If there were still questions following a round that didn’t include any wincing, cringing or grimacing, Mickelson answered them quickly, succinctly and repeatedly afterward.
“Honestly, it's no big deal,” he explained. “It was a five-minute fix. I just have to be careful for a week or two as it heals up. It's fine. Mobility is back. It's just not a big deal.”
But … it was bad enough that you were forced to withdraw from last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, then fly cross-country to receive treatment.
“It was no big deal. I did what I needed to do last week and gave it a few days to rest up and get fixed by [specialist] Tom [Boers], and now I feel great.”
But … it could have hampered your preparation for this week’s event, keeping you from playing your best game in the opening round.
“The game just was a little rusty. I made some careless swings. Hitting it in the water on 12 was just pathetic, and playing the last five holes at 3 over when I had the round going ... that was really bad.”
But … it sort of looked like you grabbed your lower back after that first swing of the day on No. 10.
“No, it felt good. Yeah, it's really nothing serious. It was a five-minute thing. It's fine.”
But … it must leave you worried about long-term prospects in a year when you’ve publicly stated a goal of finally winning the U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam.
“No, it happens every now and then. Last time was about four years ago. ... It's one of those things. It's not a big deal.”
But … you can’t be very optimistic about your chances this week after so many players went low in ideal conditions.
“It doesn't feel far off. The back feels great. I should be able to come out tomorrow and hit a good round.”
To summarize: The back injury heard 'round the world wasn’t a big deal and is pretty much almost totally completely fine now.
The golf game, though, hasn’t quite caught up.
After a pair of pars to start his morning, Mickelson pulled his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole into the greenside water hazard and made double bogey. He bounced back with birdies on his next two holes, then went on a bit of a red-number binge, adding five more in his next 10 holes.
As he alluded, however, the lefty closed with three bogeys in his final five holes, including a failure to get up and down from the bunker on his final hole before effortlessly bounding up that hill behind it.
The numbers – including the final tally of 71 strokes – weren’t too impressive, either. Mickelson found only five of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation, and needed 30 putts – a half-dozen more than this day a year ago.
It could have all been explained away by a back injury. Even just a mild inconvenience that prevented him from preparing the way he would have liked.
Instead, the three-time tournament champion just explained it away as golf, confident in the knowledge that he’ll have another opportunity to turn it around on Friday.
“I felt like it was going to be a good day, a good tournament, and to let those shots fly are disappointing,” he said. “I have to come out tomorrow and get a really hot round going to get back in this.”