Phil Mickelson gets massage, hits range at Farmers

Phil Mickelson dealt with muscle pain in his lower back at the Farmers Insurance Open. He withdrew from the event on Friday night.

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SAN DIEGO – It was a beautiful day for a walk – and that’s exactly what Phil Mickelson chose to do after hitting his tee shot on the par-4 second hole in Thursday’s first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

It was his 11th hole of the round, and by this point, the left-hander understood that he was playing a slightly different game than his playing competitors, Bubba Watson and Jason Day. “It doesn’t help that I’m playing with two of the longest guys out here,” Mickelson said.

He tossed in a smile, but his point was clear to see, for hole after hole on Torrey Pines' North Course, Mickelson was yards behind Watson and Day. “I was just unable to turn and fire,” Mickelson said. His backed had locked up on him right after what he called a “good practice session,” and he realized early in the round that he was going to hit his irons “about 15 yards” less.

When he attempted to reach the green from the middle of the fairway with a 4-iron at the par-5 18th, Mickelson sprayed it wide left and almost hit it out-of-bounds. “That one stung,” he said. “That’s where I thought, ‘This might not be the thing to do.' "

Brilliant with his wedges that he is, Mickelson got it up-and-down for birdie. Then he hit perhaps his best shot of the day – a hybrid out of the rough from about 230 yards to bounce his second shot onto the green at the par-5 first. Two putts, another birdie, and somehow he was 2 under.

“Just milking it around,” he said. “But at Torrey, length is critical.”

Thus at the second hole, his 11th of the day, it was noticeable at how much he was giving away to the field. Whereas Watson and Day waited for the group ahead of them – Brandt Snedeker, Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan – to clear the green before driving, Mickelson took an easy 3-wood off the tee.

And then he took off.

He walked by himself for perhaps 200 yards down the left, well off the fairway, most of the time his gaze fixed on the canyon and then out to the majestic waves crashing at Black’s Beach. Mickelson is in command of a massive re-design project of the North Course that will commence when this tournament concludes next January. So part of his walk might have been for architectural concerns, but he shook his head. It was all about keeping loose.

“I don’t know what happened,” Mickelson said. “But it’s a muscular problem. I’m not worried, but I don’t want to overdo it.”

He bogeyed the par-3 sixth, but birdies at the par-4 seventh and par-5 ninth enabled Mickelson to get it home in 3-under 69, tied for 17th and five off the lead. Lefty conceded that he was fortunate to have been on the North Course where he could get away with the sort of game he brought with him, easier swings and just playing approaches to the front of greens.

“I can’t do that on the South Course,” said Mickelson, who will be at the tougher of the layouts for Friday’s second round.

If he plays, that is – and the more he talked, the more it sounded likely that he could withdraw.

“Hopefully, I can play, but if not, it’s not the end of the world,” said Mickelson, a native San Diegan who lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe. “I don’t want to do something stupid.”

What he did was leave the course Thursday night and have some work done on his back, then arrive early Friday morning and go right to the PGA Tour's fitness trailer. A short time later, the hometown hero came out, a big smile on his face, and pronounced himself ready to go.

His bid to win this tournament for the fourth time – and first since 2000 – was on.

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