LA QUINTA, Calif. — Phil Mickelson opened his season with an eventful even-par 72 on Thursday in the Humana Challenge, leaving him nine strokes behind the first-round leaders.
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.
“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. I’m not contagious and the energy’s coming back. I’ve been able to practice. I played a little bit yesterday and it’s fine.”
Jason Kokrak, James Hahn and former Georgia Tech golfer Roberto Castro 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.
Former Georgia standout Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner Sunday in Hawaii in his first start as a PGA Tour member, had 64 on the Nicklaus course.
EUROPEAN TOUR: In Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods struggling, fifth-ranked Justin Rose and unheralded Jamie Donaldson had 5-under-par 67s for a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
McIlroy, playing with new clubs following his multimillion dollar sponsorship deal with Nike, finished with 75 and risks missing the cut. Woods shot 72.
Thorbjorn Olesen and Pablo Larrazabal are one stroke behind the leaders.
Former Augusta State golfer Scott Jamieson, who finished second in last week’s Volvo Golf Champions, opened with 75.
McIllroy insisted his difficulties had more to do with rusty strokes than the new equipment.
“When you go out and you’ve got new stuff, you are going to be a little anxious and hopefully you play well,” McIlroy said. “But I guess I can learn from it and move on.”