Phil Pulls a Phil in Season Debut
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Lefty makes his debut

I was confused for a moment when I glanced up at Golf Channel’s re-airing of the 2004 Masters — the one where Phil Mickelson finally won that ever-elusive major. For a moment, I thought it was Golf Central showing highlights from today’s round…because aside from a few minor details (back then he had a “Ford” logo on his left breast instead of “Barclays,” and he’s wearing light slacks instead of black).

Otherwise, same visor and black polo. Except the one from eight years ago fit better. I mean, it’s like “Hey, Phil, 2004 called and they want their size L shirt back…”

In all seriousness, Mickelson made his 2012 debut at the Humana Challenge on Thursday, playing La Quinta Country Club alongside David Toms and two amateurs. Phil shot a two-over 74 (T134), putting him 9 back of co-leaders Camilo Villegas and Toms. What?? Didn’t Phil start out well? Yep, but he was his usual unpredictable self. He posted an eagle, three birdies 10 pars, two bogeys, a double-bogey and a triple-bogey. Exactly, standard issue.

Mickelson went out at three-under 33 on the front, but some wayward drive (shock!) steered him off-course, starting on the 10th.

“It wasn’t indicative of how I know I was playing,” Phil told reporters after the round. “I’ve been playing really well heading in. I played well the front nine, made some good birdies. And then the back nine, I hit those couple out of bounds, one was a matter of two feet out and a couple inches on the other. Those could have been a big difference…It’s only one round…

“I made a few loose swings with the driver which I thought I had ironed out heading in, but I’m going to go head over to the range now and work on that, because I don’t feel like it’s far off, even though it looked like it was.”

If you’re going to make a few loose swings, La Quinta, the tightest of all three courses, isn’t the place to do it.

Somehow, Phil also reminded us why he doesn’t play Kapalua, the Tour’s season opener, aka the “All-Star Game.”

“For me personally, I’ve always liked coming (to the desert) to start the year to assess my game, play golf in great weather and work on my game,” he said. “The reason I don’t play Kapalua is it’s too windy and I get in bad habits after having not played for six weeks. And then when we moved over to the windy courses over by the highway, it again was not a great place for me to start the year.

“Again, after having not played for six or eight weeks to get in bad habits. But to come back in here by the mountains where it’s calm, it allows me to assess where I’m at and work on it and get ready for the start of the year.”

Now that we have that all cleared up, Phil and Toms had a surprise visitor on the 13th. Basically, President Clinton rolled up in a golf cart, flanked by Secret Service, and chatted with Phil and Toms. Phil said the cameo didn’t bother him, but on the following hole, the 14th, he knocked a drive OB, leading to a triple-bogey.

Meanwhile, Toms didn’t seem to have a problem with the minor distraction (most people probably would have…I would’ve been so giddy that I wouldn’t have been able to hold on to a golf club!). He put on quite the clinic, firing a bogey-free, nine-under 63 at the “hardest” of the three venues.

“Sometimes you can get distracted, but I thought my thought process was pretty good,” said Toms, who has a share of the first round lead with Camilo Villegas. “I took my time on each shot that the President was around and made sure that I was ready. I don’t know if it’s extra pressure, but you do have to stay focused.”


(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)