With most of the golf world’s attention on the Rory & Tiger Show, thousands of miles away on another continent, two-time Humana Challenge winner Phil Mickelson flew under the radar leading up to this week’s tilt on his home turf. Unfortunately for the San Diego native, his absence from the course in the days leading up to the event was due to flu-like symptoms he had been fighting for more than a week.
Mickelson -- like McIlroy and Woods -- struggled just to keep up with the pack in his first start of the season, but he had an excuse for why he may have been less prepared than he would have liked to kick off his 2013 campaign.
"I have been sick," he told reporters via conference call on Monday. "I’ve had what’s going around."
Lack of practice and playing time showed, as Mickelson, teeing it up at La Quinta Country Club, posted an opening-round even-par 72 that featured three birdies, a bogey, and a double. Not exactly the way he had hoped to launch a stretch of five consecutive events that was slated to include a defense of his Pebble Beach National Pro-Am title and end with next month’s Northern Trust Open.
After his disappointing first round, however, he tried to deflect attention away from the illness, and not use it as a reason for the performance, stating, "It wasn't anything life-threatening." Mickelson is clearly feeling much better than at the start of the week, but some signs of the illness were still apparent on Thursday.
Mickelson’s lackluster start was especially noticeable since he has had such success in California and Arizona. The 42-year-old has earned 18 of his 40 career PGA Tour victories on the West Coast swing.
He had also been building on a strong finish to his 2012 season, which ended with a share of second at the HSBC Champions in China in November.
After noting on his website that he had made "a couple of really big breakthroughs with putting and driving" -- including switching to Callaway’s new Versa flat stick and honing his technique with a claw putting grip he put into play last year -- Mickelson was anxious to get the season started.
"I haven't been able to work as hard as I have going into the season. Maybe that will be a good thing," he told reporters. "I'm really excited to start the year."
Mickelson will head into Friday’s second round -- at PGA West’s Nicklaus Private Course -- as one of a baker’s dozen tied for 122nd, nine shots behind a trio of co-leaders. With the cut at the Challenge after 54 holes instead of the usual 36, he'll have plenty of birdie opportunities to get back in it.