DORAL, Fla. – After skipping the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and last week's Honda Classic, Phil Mickelson returned to action Thursday and shot an even-par 72 on a blustery day at the Doral Resort & Spa.
However, it was clear that Mickelson didn't have the form that earned him a win at Pebble Beach and a runner-up finish at Riviera. Instead of hitting laser-guided iron shots and rolling in every putt in sight, Mickelson relied on his ability to scramble to avoid letting the tough conditions blow him farther off the pace set by one of his playing partners, Adam Scott, who shot 66.
"This has been typical for me when taking a few weeks off," Mickelson said after his round. "The first six holes back, I seem to kind of fight it. And I knew that, so I played very conservative."
That approach caused Mickelson to leave the driver in the bag on his first hole of the day, the 551-yard, par-5 10th hole, which was playing downwind. He hit a 4-iron instead. But from 299 yards out, his lay-up shot landed in a fairway bunker, and then he chunked his next shot into a greenside bunker. Mickelson was able to save par, but he failed to hit a green in regulation until the 16th hole.
"This range really hurt me, hitting into such a strong, slice wind," Mickelson said. In order to compensate for the wind on the range, Mickelson warmed up hitting a lot of left-to-right shots, but that shot shape stayed with him when he played. "I went out on the course and I was hooking everything."
That included his 3-wood tee shot on the par-5 12th hole, which also found a fairway bunker.
"Twelve is a very awkward hole for me with that slice wind," he said. "If I hit a good drive, it just goes right into that left bunker. So I tried to hit a 3-wood there at the left bunker, which would be just short. I felt like I would be able to then hit it up to the front of the green and chip up and try to make four, but I ended up over hooking it into the bunker."
Mickelson said that he should have anticipated his warm-up would induce hooks on the course and acknowledged that on Friday he'll warm up in an area where he'll face a hook wind.
Birdies on the 17th hole and the first hole were erased when Mickelson made his worst swing of the day, his tee shot on the par-3 fourth hole, which bounced twice short of the green and then dropped into the lake. He carded a double bogey after taking a drop and then leaving his pitch shot 17 feet from the hole.
After bouncing back with a birdie on the fifth hole, Mickelson made a great recovery shot from the left rough and drained a 31-foot putt on the seventh hole for a birdie that moved him back to even par for the day. That putt elicited Mickelson's only fist pump of the first round.
"I was able to fight to keep it around par, but I was never in a position to get it going low," he said. "Tomorrow I'll have to come out and get a better practice session."