No practice round is no problem for Mickelson

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Phil Mickelson first competed in The Players Championship as a senior at Arizona State in 1992, the year before Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Jordan Spieth were even born.

So his decision not to play a practice round this week at the TPC Sawgrass was really not that big of a deal.

Mickelson had an outing Monday after the Wells Fargo Championship and had planned on a practice round Tuesday.

''I was just a little tired, so I just kind of took the day off,'' he said after opening with a 70. ''And then I was going to go out Wednesday and I just thought, `Gosh, if I walk around in the heat, I'll get tired. I'd rather just get a nice practice session.' So I ended up doing that.''

There have been changes to the Players Stadium Course, most notably the 12th hole that now is 50 yards shorter with water to the left to tempt players to drive the green. With a back right pin position, most players laid up. Other changes were more cosmetic.

''I've played here 25 years, so it's not like that one round was going to make a big difference,'' Mickelson said. ''I just felt like I wanted to conserve energy and sharpen my game.''

There was another way to look at it - playing a practice round the last four years hasn't helped.

Mickelson, who won The Players in 2007 when it first moved from March to May, hasn't had a top 10 since then and hasn't played he weekend since 2012. Thursday was an encouraging start, especially that 5-iron to 6 feet for an eagle on the par-5 16th.

''I'm happy because I've been a lot worse the last few years, so under par is good,'' Mickelson said. ''I did a lot of really good things, a lot of good shots, a lot of birdies, made an eagle, it's great. Sure, I made some mistakes, but you're going to do that here. That's going to happen. So I thought I did a good job of letting it go and coming back with some birdies.''

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ISLAND ACE: Sergio Garcia thought the loudest cheer he might hear all day would be at the first tee when he was introduced as the Masters champion.

That was before he stood on the 17th tee at The Players Championship with a gap wedge in his hand, and watched his shot bounce in front of the pin, land just behind the hole and spin back slightly into the cup.

''It was great,'' Garcia said. ''Obviously, it was a hole-in-one, so if they don't react to that, then something's wrong.''

What thrilled the Spaniard even more was the number on his card - 1. He was 4 over through six holes to start this tournament and had not made up any ground until a birdie on the 16th, his ace on the 17th and a par save on the 18th for a 73.

''If I have a good day tomorrow, I'll still be in good shape,'' Garcia said.

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RORY'S BACK: Rory McIlroy said he needed to drop a few pounds coming off his wedding and honeymoon. He also revealed Thursday after opening with a 73 that he hasn't been practicing quite as hard so he can be cautious with his back.

McIlroy missed two months earlier this season with a rib injury that he played through in South Africa.

''I've been very limited hitting golf balls,'' McIlroy said. ''My back has got a little bit stiff again, I guess just from obviously building it up and playing through and then not doing anything for three weeks and then coming back last weekend and hitting balls for four or five hours a day. Just aggravated that joint in my back again, the thing that sort of happened at the start of the season.''

McIlroy said he is resting and managing his back, and will pay more attention to recovery next week off before beginning a busy summer.

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RAKE JOB: Jordan Spieth was so irritated by a poor rake job in the bunker left of the first green that he wanted to document the evidence. So he reached into his bag for his phone and took a picture.

He narrowly missed the green. He just didn't expect to be punished like this.

''It was just a bunker that was raked to where it just kind of looked like somebody didn't really care much to do it or were rushing off the green,'' Spieth said. ''I was, I think, in worse than a plugged lie, when it just trickled in. And I overreacted probably a bit, but all in all, you just don't see that very often.''

He said had it been a normal lie, the shot would not have been too bad. With that lie, he said he had no chance.

Compounding the frustration, Spieth blasted out to 45 feet and three-putted for double bogey. He was never under par the rest of the day and shot 73.

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