Daily Wrap-up: Humana Challenge, Round 1January 17, 2013
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson glanced at the flag about 25 yards away, and surveyed the tall tree blocking his path. He looked again, craning his head skyward, then flashed a boyish grin and reached for his lob wedge.
Following his worst shot of the day with his best, Lefty saved par on the par-3 12th with a full-swing flop shot that climbed nearly straight up and over the 25-foot tree and stopped 2 feet from the hole. It helped him salvage an even-par 72 on Thursday in the first round of the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation in his season debut.
"That was one of my better wedges," Mickelson said. "But, as I was telling my partner, `You hit it there as much as I do, eventually you're going to learn how to hit those shots.'"
He yelled "Fore left!" a second after impact on the 202-yard hole.
"It was just very bad timing," Mickelson said about the tee shot. "Quick from the top, lower body fast. Just a bad swing. I did the same thing on the next par 3 with the same club. Only it went the other way. I made par both times, though."
Recovering from flu-like symptoms, the 42-year-old Mickelson had three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey at La Quinta Country Club -- one of three courses used in the pro-am event that he won in 2002 and 2004 -- to drop nine strokes behind the first-round leaders.
"I felt a lot better," Mickelson said. "I took it easy on Monday and Tuesday. It was like Day 10, but I'm fine now. I'm 95 percent better."
Jason Kokrak, Roberto Castro and James Hahn topped the leaderboard at 9-under 63.
Kokrak had two eagles and five birdies at La Quinta.
"I just tried to put it in the right spots, put it in the fairways," Kokrak said. "Out there, that's key. They're tighter fairways and if you can be in the fairway, you'll have a good opportunity for birdie."
Castro had nine birdies at PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Private Course, and Hahn had nine birdies on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course.
"It was a great day," Hahn said. "Chipped two in. Hadn't done that since I was 9."
Russell Henley, the Sony Open in Hawaii winner on Sunday, had a 64 on the Nicklaus Course. He's 32 under in his first five rounds this year.
"It was a perfect day," Henley said. "The weather is perfect. The greens were true. So, it's just trying to stay patient and let the birdies come to me."
Mickelson made his first start since tying for second in early November in the HSBC Champions in China, the only event he played after the Ryder Cup.
"My timing and rhythm was off a little bit," Mickelson said. "My putter was atrocious and I've been putting great, too. So, that was disappointing."
Mickelson made his second brilliant recovery shot on the par-5 13th, slicing a fairway wood from the rough on the adjacent 14th hole high over trees and onto the green. However, his eagle try ran 12 feet past the cup and he three-putted for par.
"Gosh, I hit such a great 5-wood to 35 feet for eagle," Mickelson said. "To three-putt that is just, it was just a lot of rough stuff today."
He also scrambled to save par on the par-3 15th, this time shouting "Fore right!" after another poorly timed swing. Turning to the flop shot again, he lobbed the ball over the corner of a bunker to 4 feet.
"When I'm not playing for a while, I really get excited to get back out and I was really amped up," Mickelson said. "I was nervous today and excited to play and maybe a little over-amped because again everything was quick -- my rhythm, timing, everything."
Mickelson bogeyed the par-3 third, three-putting from the back fringe, and birdied the par-5 fifth after driving left into a fairway bunker and being forced to lay up. He made a double bogey on the par-4 10th after an aggressive drive over the trees went out of bounds.
"That hole has my number," Mickelson said. "This time, it hit a tree, hit the cart path, went out of bounds by a foot. So, that hole is just my nemesis."
He got one of the strokes back with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th, and got back to even par with a birdie on the par-4 18th, hitting an 8-iron from 168 yards to 3 feet.
"I hit a lot of fairways and was able to shake out an even-par round," Mickelson said. "As bad as that is, I've got a low round in me tomorrow, I think. It doesn't feel like it's far off."
Aaron Baddeley, Greg Chalmers and Doug LaBelle II matched Henley at 64. Baddeley played the Palmer Course, and Chalmers and LaBelle opened on the Nicklaus Course.
Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, opened with a 67 at La Quinta. The Canadian left-hander has missed 16 consecutive cuts and has finished only one tournament -- a tie for 70th in the AT&T National in July 2011 -- in his last 28 events.
"I drove it well and putted well and everything was pretty good," Weir said. "It was a nice solid round to get off to a good start."
FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker also had a 67 at La Quinta. He's the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 8 in the world.
DIVOTS: Mickelson is opening a stretch of five or six straight events, a run that will end at Riviera for the Northern Trust Open or the Accenture-Match Play Championship. ... The tournament is the first of seven events this year with an expanded field because of the short season. There are 156 players this year instead of 144. ... Defending champion Mark Wilson shot a 77 at La Quinta. ... Robert Karlsson, the Swede who entered last year at No. 24 in the world and had to go through two stages of qualifying school to retain his PGA TOUR card, had a 71 on the Nicklaus Course.
La Quinta Country Club: Round 1 EASIEST HOLE TOUGHEST HOLE
The par-5 fifth was the easiest with a Thursday scoring average of 4.346.
Eagles: 6 | Birdies: 28 | Pars: 14 | Bogeys: 2 | Others: 2
The par-3 seventh was the toughest with a Thursday scoring average of 3.308.
Eagles: 0 | Birdies: 5 | Pars: 35 | Bogeys: 6 | Others: 6
PGA West (Palmer Course): Round 1 EASIEST HOLE TOUGHEST HOLE
The par-5 sixth was the easiest with a Thursday scoring average of 4.423.
Eagles: 1 | Birdies: 28 | Pars: 23 | Bogeys: 0 | Others: 0
The par-4 13th was the toughest with a Thursday scoring average of 4.288.
Eagles: 0 | Birdies: 4 | Pars: 31 | Bogeys: 15 | Others: 2
PGA West (Nicklaus Course): Round 1 EASIEST HOLE TOUGHEST HOLE
The par-5 fourth was the easiest with a Thursday scoring average of 4.365.
Eagles: 3 | Birdies: 29 | Pars: 18 | Bogeys: 2 | Others: 0
The par-4 18th was the toughest with a Thursday scoring average of 4.250.
Eagles: 0 | Birdies: 3 | Pars: 37 | Bogeys: 8 | Others: 4
About the leaders • As a rookie on the PGA TOUR in 2012, Canadian-born Jason Kokrak missed the cut in his first start in La Quinta last year (68-66-78). He is coming off a 72nd at last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
• At No. 167 on the money list with just three events left in the 2012 season, Kokrak claimed the best finish of his rookie year with a T2 at the Frys.com Open. The finish vaulted -- and kept, him inside the top-125 to maintain his fully exempt status for 2013.
• The bogey-free 63 matches Roberto Castro's career-low from the final round of the 2012 Greenbrier Classic. Castro is coming off a missed cut at last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
• In his rookie season last year, Castro made 19 cuts in 27 starts, with his lone top-10 finish being a T7 at the Greenbrier Classic.
• Also like Kokrak, the 27-year-old Castro is making his 30th career PGA TOUR start this week, and has never previously held any part of a lead following a round.
• Rookie James Hahn comes to the PGA TOUR in 2013 by virtue of a 5th-place finish on the 2012 Web.com Tour, where he claimed one win (Rex Hospital Open) and two runner-ups (Utah Championship, Web.com Tour Championship).
• Prior to 2013, Hahn’s only start on the PGA TOUR resulted in a missed cut at the 2012 U.S. Open. He comes to La Quinta this week following a T67 at last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
• Jhonattan Vegas (2011), Arnold Palmer (1960) and Charley Hoffman (2007) are the only players to win the Humana Challenge in their first start here.
• Since 1990, the first-round leader of the Humana Challenge has held on for the win just three times. Pat Perez achieved the feat most recently in 2009, with Kenny Perry and Mark Brooks having previously done so in 1995 and 1996, respectively.