Mickelson’s back better than game in Phoenix Open

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Phil Mickelson worked a lot harder on his ailing back than his game in the last week. It showed in the first round of the Phoenix Open.

“I did what I needed to do last week and gave it a few days to rest up and get fixed,” Mickelson said Thursday after opening his defense with an even-par 71.

From the moment he set foot at TPC Scottsdale before dawn, it was clear that the back pain was gone. It also was evident early that his game was a little off.

After effortlessly hitting his opening drive 300 yards down the middle on the par-4 10th, Mickelson dumped a 90-yard wedge shot into the left greenside bunker. He blasted 10 feet past the hole and sighed in relief when his par putt slid in.

On the par-3 12th, Mickelson found the water hazard along the right side. His chip from the fringe stopped about 15 feet short and he two-putted for a double bogey. He three-putted twice, once for par and another for bogey.

“My back is fine. My game was a little rusty,” Mickelson said. “I threw away a lot of shots. I made some careless swings. Hitting it in the water on 12 was just pathetic.”

He was seven strokes behind leaders Bubba Watson and Y.E. Yang.

“I got off to a poor start, played a couple over, and finished poorly,” Mickelson said. “In the middle of the round, though, I hit a lot of good shots and had a good little run, but it just wasn’t quite sharp. I wasn’t quite focused on every shot the way I need to be and let way too many shots slide.”

Mickelson first felt soreness in his back two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, and pulled out of his hometown event last Friday night at Torrey Pines after making the 36-hole cut. He flew to Georgia to see back specialist Tom Boers and was told his facet joints locked up.

“It’s fine. Honestly, it’s no big deal,” Mickelson said. “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. … It happens every now and then.”

After the double bogey on 12, he rebounded with 20-foot birdie putts on the next two holes, but three-putted for par on the par-5 15th after hitting a hybrid pin-high from 245 yards.

“Fifteen really stung,” Mickelson said. “It was only a 12- or 15-footer, and I am thinking eagle. I roll it 6 feet by and I miss it coming back. That was costly.”

Mickelson got to 3 under with birdies on Nos. 17, 1 and 4, then bogeyed three of his last five holes. He three-putted the par-4 fifth and failed to get-up-down for par after finding greenside bunkers on Nos. 7 and 9.

“Playing the last five holes at 3 over … that was really bad,” Mickelson said.

He hit five of 14 fairways, 11 greens in regulation and had 30 putts.

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