ORLANDO – Phil’s gonna do Phil.
In the city of theme parks, Phil Mickelson was his own E-ride in Thursday’s first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, taking the golf world on another wonderful 18-hole journey full of thrills and a few spills.
Playing Arnie’s annual bash for the first time since 2013, Mickelson was far from ho-hum under sun-splashed skies and signed for a 4-under-par 68 which put him on the first page of the leaderboard.
Of the 68 shots, however, one stood out.
After making the turn at 3 under and looking every bit the man ready to pounce on the leaders, Mickelson got tangled up in an out-of-bounds mesh fence on the 10th hole when his tee shot wound up under the green, vinyl barrier.
And then Phil went all Phil.
After surveying his options, Mickelson high-stepped the fence with ease despite his 48 years of age. He took his stance in someone’s backyard, flipped over a 9-iron and hit his second shot right-handed.
His heroic attempt at an escape, however, failed as the ball got caught up in the meshing and, as Lefty looked up in the air to try and locate his ball, the ball fell to the ground just a foot away.
This time, the ball was out of bounds. Under the old rules, Mickelson would have been forced to play his next shot from the exact spot his second shot originated from. But with the new rule that went into effect Jan. 1, Mickelson was allowed one club length of relief from the original spot under penalty of one stroke.
After taking his drop, Mickelson hit his fourth on to the green and two-putted for a double-bogey 6.
“I hit it solid, so I actually thought it was going to get on the green,” Mickelson said. “That fence seemed to stop the ball. The fence moved forward enough to grab the ball. I thought it was going to be fine. I didn’t think it was an issue.
“I was surprised because I thought I hit it pretty flush. So, it happens, and I didn’t think it was that big a deal. I’ve made a lot of doubles in my day, it’s one more, it doesn’t even hurt.”
He’s made a lot more birdies than doubles in his career, and added seven more to his career tally, the last one coming in spectacular fashion. On the par-4, 458-yard 18th, where the green is guarded by rocks and water, Mickelson hit a 7-iron from 167 yards to a foot.
“That was a go pin for me,” Mickelson said.
On a day that broke chilly, Rafa Cabrera Bello, making his debut in the tournament, heated up quickly with four birdies in his first six holes and finished with a pace-setting, 7-under-par 65 to stand two shots clear of major champion Keegan Bradley. Joining Mickelson at 68 were Patrick Rodgers, Billy Horschel and major champions Bubba Watson and Graeme McDowell.
Mickelson, who won at Bay Hill in 1997, is in position to add to his resume a second victory in Arnold’s tournament and a second win this year. In February, he won his record-tying fifth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, his 44th PGA Tour title with five major championships among them.
That victory indicated the member of the World Golf Hall of Fame isn’t going to fade away anytime soon. And more E-rides are in the future.
“I thought anything in the 60s was going to be phenomenal,” Mickelson said. “And I ended up playing really well to do that. The course isn’t playing easy.
“I was pleased that I hit a lot of overall good shots, made a lot of birdies. That’s a lot of birdies out there, seven of them. I didn’t expect that.”
Then again, with Mickelson, you expect the unexpected.