Mickelson struggles at FBR Open in season debut

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — As a former Arizona resident, Phil Mickelson is excited to see the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl.

If he keeps playing like he did Thursday, Mickelson may be able to watch them in person.

Mickelson shot a 5-over 76 in the first round of the FBR Open at TPC Scottsdale, putting him in a tie for 121st and in danger of missing the cut in his first tournament of the season.

Mickelson was far behind leaders James Nitties and Lucas Glover, who shot 6-under 65s, but he was optimistic about playing better in the second round.

``I feel like I can come back out tomorrow and shoot a good round and play the weekend,'' Mickelson said. ``I'd probably have to shoot about 5 under. But that doesn't feel out of the question, even though the score in this first round might look disgusting. It doesn't feel that far off.''

Mickelson struggled to control his driver, digging his tee shots out of cacti on the 11th and 13th holes. He finished with as many double bogeys (2) as birdies, and also had three bogeys. Only six players posted higher scores on a breezy, sunny day.

Mickelson usually fares well at TPC Scottsdale, winning in 1996 and 2005 and losing in a playoff last year. This was his season debut, but the former Arizona State star said he wasn't rusty and thought his swing was in good shape.

``It doesn't feel as far off as the score indicates,'' Mickelson said. ``I know the score is ridiculous. But it doesn't feel bad.''

The highlight of Mickelson's day may have been a brief meeting with former President George H.W. Bush as Mickelson's group approached the 15th green. Bush also shook hands with Mickelson's partners, Justin Leonard and Zach Johnson.

Bush was part of a crowd of 71,907, which fell more than 11,000 short of last year's opening-round record. The FBR Open is the tour's most heavily attended event, but attendance has been down each of the first four days in what might be a sign of the flagging economy.

Nitties was trying not to be distracted by the beery crowd. In his PGA Tour bio, Nitties lists his special interests as ``clubbing, girls, movies.''

He's come to the right place - the FBR Open is renowned as the big party stop on the Tour.

``This is one of the events I was looking forward to the most,'' said Nitties, a 26-year-old Australian. ``If you knew me, it's tough for me to concentrate out here. But on the flip side, I'm on the PGA Tour and I'm not going to take it for granted, so I know when to put my partying on hold, and I know when to put in hard work. Yeah, there's some good sights out there.''

David Berganio Jr. and Charley Hoffman were tied for third, one stroke off the lead, with Briny Baird, Kevin Na and Matt Kuchar two strokes off the pace.

Play was suspended because of darkness with nine players still on the course.

TPC Scottsdale has a long history of low scores; two years ago, John Rollins shot 20 under and lost by a stroke to Aaron Baddeley.

But players had heard that the course would be tougher this year, and the opening round bore that out.

Asked about a rumor that the fairways had tightened, Baird replied, ``I don't think that's a rumor. That's a fact. They've pinched fairways in.

``The rough is definitely up from years past, so they're trying to toughen it up,'' Baird said. ``If that's what they wanted, then success.''

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