LA QUINTA, Calif. — Phil Mickelson hit his opening tee shot so poorly in morning rain and cold that he hit a provisional ball just to get in another swing.
He scrambled to par the hole and went on to shoot 4-under 68 Thursday in the PGA Tour's CareerBuilder Challenge, leaving him four strokes back in his return from two sports hernia surgeries.
"I struck it horrible, but I scored out of my mind," Mickelson said, "so I'm very happy with it. My first round of golf was Saturday and I've been able to work out just the last two weeks."
"Lefty" hooked his first tee shot into the trees at La Quinta Country Club, then reloaded and hit the provisional into the fairway.
"That next hole, the second hole's an extremely difficult drive, and I wanted to just get another swing," Mickelson said.
He found the first ball and hammered a shot under the trees to just off the front of the green.
"It was really a great day for me because I scored so much better than I played," he said.
The 46-year-old had surgery Oct. 19 — three days after tying for eighth in the season-opening Safeway Open — and again Dec. 12.
Tour rookie Dominic Bozzelli shot 8-under 64 on the Stadium Course at PGA West to top the leaderboard. He holed out from 115 yards for eagle on the par-4 14th.
Jhonattan Vegas was a stroke back at 65 along with Harold Varner, Hudson Swafford and Patton Kizzire. Vegas and Kizzire played PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and Varner and Swafford opened at La Quinta.
Rain fell off and on in the morning and more was expected today, with tee times moved up an hour. Play started with the temperature in the lows 50s, and it barely climbed into the 60s.
EUROPE: Henrik Stenson had eight birdies in a bogey-free opening round, shooting 8-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead in the Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) Championship. Martin Kaymer was tied for second after shooting 66. World No. 3 Dustin Johnson, the highest-ranked player in the tournament after second-ranked Rory McIlroy's withdrawal, shot 72. Rickie Fowler also shot par 72.