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Mickelson treated for form of arthritis but looks ready for PGA Championship

Tiger Woods
Robert Beck/SI

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Phil Mickelson said Tuesday that he is being treated for psoriatic arthritis, a condition in which the body's immune system attacks healthy cells and tissue, causing inflammation and pain in the joints and tendons, according to mayoclinic.com.

Mickelson said he is taking medication for the disease and expects a full recovery. He said he feels about "90 percent" this week at Whistling Straits, where he is competing for the season's final major at the PGA Championship.

"Things have been looking great, and long term there shouldn't be any issues," Mickelson said. "It's very treatable, and the medicine I've been taking is very helpful."

The first symptoms of the disease appeared five days before the U.S. Open., he said.

"I woke up with intense pain in areas of my body — some joints and tendons — so much so that I couldn't walk," Mickelson said. "And it progressively got worse, and ultimately I had to figure something was wrong and had to go get it checked."

Mickelson said the arthritis did not affect his play at the U.S. Open, where he finished fourth. However, the condition worsened when he took his family to Hawaii the week after the U.S. Open.

"Every joint in my body started to hurt to where I couldn't move; I would just lay down and I couldn't roll over," Mickelson said. "And I was concerned about being able to swing a golf club."

After an initial diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, Mickelson competed in the Scottish Open and the British Open in July, missing the cut at the Scottish Open and finishing 48th at the British Open. He said he treated his condition with anti-inflammatory medication while in Europe. After the British Open, Mickelson visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he spent two days and started his current treatment, which is a shot of Enbrel once a week to prevent his immune system from affecting his joints.

"This has put it in remission," Mickelson said of the treatment. "I'll probably take this drug for a year and feel 100 percent. [Then] I'll stop it and see if it goes into remission, and it may never come back."

His other treatment is unusual for the In-N-Out and Five Guys burger-loving Mickelson. He's become a vegetarian.

"This will be the shocker," Mickelson said of his new diet. "I read a book and just thought maybe it would help. And if it helps my situation, I'm all for it."

Mickelson has been dealing with medical issues since his wife, Amy, and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. He noted ruefully that the psoriatic arthritis started just days before his 40th birthday.

"I was commenting to [his wife] Amy the week before the Open, I said, 'I've never felt this good. I have no aches and pains, my back feels great. I feel stronger and more flexible than ever before,'" Mickelson said. "Four days later, you know, it's just crazy."

Mickelson did not blame the arthritis for his recent uneven play — he shot 78 Sunday at Firestone when he had a chance to wrest the No. 1 ranking from a slumping Tiger Woods — but he did say that the condition has affected his preparation for events.

"Heading into the PGA, heading into last week, I'm probably not as sharp as I would like to be," Mickelson said. "I didn't play well at the British obviously. I didn't play well last week on the weekend, but I'm able to work on it. I had a good session with [his coach] Butch [Harmon], and I believe the game's coming around.

"I'm not sure where I'll be on Thursday, but hopefully I'll be ready," Mickelson said.

Harmon was on hand for some of Mickelson's nine-hole practice round Tuesday, which he played with Jeff Overton, Steve Marino and frequent practice-round buddy Dustin Johnson. Like most of Mickelson's practice rounds, it was as much about having fun as practice. On the tee of the par-3 17th hole, the group all took a shot at hitting a rock the size of a UPS truck about 150 yards off-shore. Only Johnson and Marino's caddie got it close.

Mickelson did sink an 8-footer on 18 that clinched the match for him and Overton, punctuated by a Mickelson fist-pump and high-five for Overton from Mickelson's caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay.

"It was for a lot of confidence," Mickelson joked when asked how much money he and Overton took from Johnson and Marino. "It's not as much about the money, but to be able to talk smack with your friends."

After his round, a smiling Mickelson signed autographs behind the 18th hole for almost 30 minutes. He signed caps, tickets, flags, magazine covers and even foam cheesehead hats, until virtually everyone who wanted an autograph got one. When he finally stopped signing to head into the locker room, the fans in the grandstand cheered in appreciation.

Mickelson's still not No. 1, and he's got a lot more than golf on his mind, but it's safe to say he left the course Tuesday feeling pretty good.

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