LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Now that the heat is off, Phil Mickelson is finally starting to warm up.
Mickelson, who hasn’t won since the 2013 British Open and had just three top-10s in his first 19 starts this year, is feeling more like his old self these days and his play is finally a beneficiary.
Under clear skies and in perfect scoring conditions, he toured Conway Farms Golf Club in just 66 strokes in the first round of the BMW Championship, the third tournament of the FedExCup Playoffs. That left Lefty four shots off the pace-setting ways of Marc Leishman, who shot a 9-under-par 62.
Jamie Lovemark, Charley Hoffman and Jason Day, playing with a new caddie for the first time in his career, each shot 64. Last week Day, who won the BMW Championship at Conway in 2015, parted ways with Colin Swatton, who remains his coach.
In a group at 65 were FedExCup leader Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, who reeled off six consecutive birdies.
Mickelson started turning the corner in the second playoff event, where he tied for sixth in the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston. Mickelson said he no longer is plagued by a lack of energy and focus that has hurt his game throughout the year after consulting with the doctor who guided him after his psoriatic arthritis diagnosis in 2010.
Also boosting his spirits is his addition to the Presidents Cup team that faces the Internationals on Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in New Jersey. Mickelson was one of two captain’s selections made by Steve Stricker two days after play concluded at TPC Boston. Mickelson, who hasn’t missed a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup since 1994, will represent the U.S. for the 23rd time in team play.
“I certainly feel a lot less pressure now,” said Mickelson, a winner of 42 PGA Tour titles, including five major championships. “I wanted to get on the team. I was really feeling the heat, but playing well in Boston made it a lot easier. …
“I really wanted to be there. I’m so glad that I am and this week is more a continuation of Boston, where I was able to get my energy back up, get my focus back up, and I think going bogey-free shows that I’m much more in tune with each shot.”
A dejected Mickelson left the PGA Championship after missing the cut, saying his focus was non-existent, his visualization of certain shots was shaky and his energy level near empty. He had a lackluster performance in the first playoff event, the Northern Trust, where he tied for 54th. But Mickelson said his doctor told him it would take about two weeks for him to get better and Boston was the second week.
Mickelson hasn’t divulged what ailed him or if he’s taking medication, but his tank is full, his visualization clear and his focus sharp.
“It’s fun to play a good, solid opening round and not feel like I’m having to play catch-up the whole time thereafter,” said Mickelson, who likely needs a finish of 13th or better to advance to next week’s Tour Championship, the FedExCup Playoffs finale.
“I also feel that it was as high as I could have shot today given the number of birdie opportunities I had and how well I played,” Mickelson added. “It feels great to be able to have energy throughout the round and keep my focus up. I’m really excited with some simple changes I’ve made in the last month to get my game back. …
“I mean it’s only been five rounds, but after Boston I feel the momentum is starting to kick in. I feel like the scoring is starting to feel easy again.”
Leishman made it look easy with 10 birdies, including a stretch of seven in nine holes around the turn. The winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational finished third in Boston and is seventh in the FedExCup standings.
“Game is feeling pretty good at the moment,” he said. “Confidence is high and hopefully I can just ride the wave.”
Spieth, who finished second in each of the first two playoff events, kept riding his wave with a bogey-free round.
“It was a nice start on 1 after kind of an iffy range session. Got pretty lucky to make a 3 there on 1 and then an up and down on 2. I’m 1-under and feel I should be 2-over,” Spieth said. “I felt like I really stole a few shots out of this golf course, which is rare to feel like you scored better than you played. So, obviously very pleased with that and some work to do to stay in front or stay towards the front.”