Mickelson's back is better than his game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — From the moment Phil Mickelson set foot at TPC Scottsdale early Thursday morning, it was clear that the back pain that sidelined him last weekend was gone.

It also was quickly evident that his game was a little off.

"My back is fine. My game was a little rusty," Mickelson said after opening his Phoenix Open title defense with an even-par 71.

After effortlessly hitting his opening drive 300 yards down the middle on the par-4 10th, Mickelson dumped a 90-yard wedge shot into the left greenside bunker. He blasted 10 feet past the hole and sighed in relief when his par putt slid in.

A few minutes later on the par-3 12th, Mickelson found the water hazard along the right side of the green. His chip from the fringe stopped about 15 feet short and he two-putted for a double bogey. He three-putted twice, once for par and another for bogey.

"I threw away a lot of shots," Mickelson said. "I made some careless swings. Hitting it in the water on 12 was just pathetic."

He was seven strokes behind leaders Bubba Watson and Y.E. Yang.

Watson birdied four of the final six holes. The 2012 Masters champion had eight birdies and a bogey in the afternoon session.

Yang birdied the final two holes. The 2009 PGA winner also had eight birdies and a bogey, playing the back nine in 6-under 30 in his morning round.

Scottsdale residents Pat Perez, Kevin Stadler and Matt Jones were a stroke back at 65 along with Harris English, William McGirt, Greg Chalmers and Chris Kirk.

Dubai Desert Classic

At Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Rory McIlroy took another step toward regaining his form with his lowest score in more than three years, a 9-under 63 while playing with Tiger Woods to take a two-shot lead.

McIlroy played bogey-free in ideal scoring conditions on the Maglis course at Emirates Golf Club, picking up six birdies and an eagle during a 10-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He easily upstaged Woods, who was five shots behind after a 68.


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