“Lethargic” Phil Mickelson gets off to sluggish start at Torrey Pines

Jeff Gross

Phil Mickelson’s eventful week since finishing T37 at the Humana Challenge has apparently thrown his game off-kilter.

"Very lethargic off the first tee," Mickelson told reporters after carding a lackluster even-par 72 on the North Course at Torrey Pines, rated among the easiest tracks on the PGA Tour in 2012. "I've got to get my head a little bit more focused on the shots, and I haven't been as mentally focused starting out. So, hopefully, I'll be able to turn that around tomorrow and start a little bit more effectively in the future."

To recap why Lefty may not have his eyes on the $1.1 million first-place prize -- after going on an anti-tax tirade following Sunday’s Humana finale, the $48 million man issued an apology for his ill-considered remarks. He succeeded that with another mea culpa to those whose paychecks may fall a tad short of his own.

Last week, Mickelson got off to a similarly sluggish start at La Quinta but turned things around by going 17-under over the final three rounds. Finishing his opener seven shots off the first-round pace that defending champ Brandt Snedeker set at the Farmers, Mickelson was tied for 90th heading into Friday and would seem to need similarly inspired play just to make it to the weekend.

With the far tougher South Course looming, however, the San Diego native had his work cut out for him if he hoped to make the cut in a hometown tourney that he’s won three times. The venue, which USGA officials deemed challenging enough to host the 2008 U.S. Open, yielded an average score of 71.7 in Thursday’s first round, according to the PGA Tour.

"It's going to take some exceptional golf over on the South, but three of the rounds are on the South," said Mickelson, who appeared heartened by K.J. Choi’s first-round 65 on the course he'll tackle Friday. “There are some low scores out there if you play the course right and effectively. There's probably half the holes where you've got to play for par and the other half you can make some birdies."

He’ll have to do better than hitting some 14 percent of fairways and 61 percent of greens in regulation and get a better grip on his putter if he hopes to bag those birds.

“I've got to shoot something in the 60s, and if I can get a couple of putts to go --,” he said. “I putted very poorly. I've got to get that putter going. If I can putt well, hopefully, the mid‑60s.”

Despite the media frenzy of his own making, Mickelson refused to blame off-course diversions for his less-than-stellar effort.

“No, not at all,” he said about whether the beef over his tax bite factored into his disappointing round. “I've been playing better than this, and there's no excuses.”

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