Phil, Sergio, and Rory walk onto a golf course. While that could be the start to a links-related joke, the first round of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship was no laughing matter for Mickelson or Garcia, though McIlroy was mighty happy with the start to his 2014 season.
"I hurt my left shoulder in the pro-am yesterday and the rough this week is not helping it very much," Garcia told Bernie McGuire after he sought medical assistance during a 4-over 76 opening round Thursday in the Emirates. "I would say that it’s dangerous and hopefully nobody else will get injured because it could [happen] to several guys this week."
Mickelson, who prior to kickoff gushed about how his new Callaway driver could help him to his greatest year on tour, was another near-casualty of course conditions, his birdie-less 73, no doubt, rubbing salt in the wound.
"You have got to be careful. I kind of hurt myself going after one," said Lefty, who joined early-rounds playing partner Rory in a pre-tourney golf club-twirling exhibition extraordinaire. "I kind of twinged my back there at the last hole and maybe I should have played a wedge out and not risk injury."
McIlroy, the lone bright spot among three of the biggest stars playing this week in the Middle East, had no complaints -- especially considering how he stumbled out of the gate with a 75 and a missed cut last year in this tournament, which came on the heels of the hoopla surrounding his signing that huge equipment deal with Nike.
"I was really pleased with how I hit the ball out there. From tee to green, I was really solid," McIlroy told reporters after carding a 70 to put himself in a share of 19th and just three shots off the lead. "Starting off bogey-free is always a nice way to start and definitely a nice score to build on for the rest of the week."
McIlroy hit nine of 14 fairways in regulation so he was familiar with the situations in which Garcia and Mickelson found themselves.
"The rough is very thick and really penal," he said. "If you miss the fairways, you’re making life very hard for yourself."
Even so, McIlroy declined to term the long grass threatening to a golfer’s life and limb.
"It’s not dangerous," he told McGuire, "and besides it’s worse at U.S. Open."
Garcia, whom Bernie McGuire observed lying flat on the ground to receive treatment on his 13th hole, was not quite so charitable in his assessment of the grounds.
"It’s [the rough] very, very thick and what we see at a U.S. Open, but the worst thing about it they have cut it from green back to the tee, and by doing that the ball nestles’ down quite a bit," Garcia, who earlier in the week said he was done apologizing for his Tiger Woods-fried chicken gaffe, told McGuire. "You just have to hit it so hard into the ground to get it out and when you’re not 100 percent, it doesn’t help at all."
The 18-time European and PGA Tour worldwide winner was unsure about his ability to play on Friday. He said he would reassess his health after more treatment.
As for Mickelson, who found the short stuff on only six of 14 tee shots and ended a 17-hole par streak with a bogey at the last, was due for a tune-up with his Big Bertha Alpha. Or -- no surprise for the inveterate tinkerer -- tweak the set-up of his bag.
"You've got to get the ball in play off the tee, there's no other way around it. I hit a lot of 3-woods today trying to get it in play," he said, apparently eschewing the big dog much of the day. "I may have to even fall back and hit hybrids just to get the ball in the fairway because you can't play from the rough."