Beware the ailing golfer? Not this time.
Phil Mickelson battled a severe cold and low energy for nine days before starting his PGA Tour season Thursday at the Humana Challenge. And although he upgraded his condition to "fine" at La Quinta, it was his game that looked sluggish in an opening even-par 72 at La Quinta Country Club.
"Lot of rust today," Mickelson said after three-putting twice, missing several putts in the range of 5-6 feet and driving out of bounds left on No. 10 for the second year in a row. "My timing and rhythm were off. Everything was quick. . . . I was really amped up and excited. Maybe overly amped up."
It left him nine strokes behind a trio of leaders -- Roberto Castro, Jason Kokrak and James Hahn -- tied for 122nd place in the tournament.
Though his practice was limited the previous week or so, Mickelson came to the desert convinced that his claw-style putting and his driving were in top shape after "breakthroughs" in offseason practice. The day before the Humana began, he went so far as to say, "I think this could be my best putting year and it could be my best driving year."
But his putting was poor from the start Thursday, as he made three birdies, one double bogey and a bogey. He missed three putts in the range of 6-8 feet on the first six holes. Then he three-putted for par at the par-5 13th after hitting a brilliant slice approach from near the 14th fairway.
"My putting was atrocious and I had been putting great," Mickelson said. "I know it's there, even though the results weren't."
Mickelson maintains he hit more solid putts than ever during the past couple of months thanks to worrying less about line. It just didn't translate here.
Nor was he able to handle the 10th hole again. Last year, he drove out of bounds and made a triple-bogey 7. The consolation is that he improved this time, making a double after his drive hit a tree and cart path and bounced about a foot outside the white stakes.
"That hole is my nemesis," he said.
That wasn't his only errant shot. On the par-3 15th, his tee shot hit a spectator in the groin right of the green.
"Is everybody OK over here?" Mickelson asked as he arrived at his ball.
Upon learning his ball struck someone, he asked, "Who did I hit?" A middle-aged man raised his hand and pointed to the spot of the contact. Mickelson apologized profusely and then gave the man a ball after hitting a flop shot close and saving par.
His round and mood did end on a good note, though. He hit an 8-iron from 168 yards to four feet of the stick and birdied 18. That got him back to even par and spawned optimism.
"I've got a low round in me tomorrow," he said.