Mickelson opens season at Humana Challenge


Mickelson opens season at Humana Challenge

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) Phil Mickelson was a bit lost in the middle of the fairway - and at his best in some rough spots in his season debut.

Lefty made birdie after driving into a fairway bunker on a short par 5, saved par twice with sensational flops after bad swings on par 3s, and set up an eagle chance - that turned into a three-putt par - with a high slice from an adjacent hole.

From the fairway Thursday in the Humana Challenge, he struggled with distance control on short irons, leaving many long putts and few quality birdie chances. All understandable for a player coming off a long layoff and a lengthy bout with flu-like symptoms.

``I felt a lot better,'' Mickelson said. ``I took it easy on Monday and Tuesday. It was like Day 10, but I'm fine now. I'm 95 percent better.''

His game was still a little queasy.

``My timing and rhythm was off a little bit,'' Mickelson said. ``My putter was atrocious and I've been putting great, too. So, that was disappointing.''

He settled for an even-par 72, leaving him nine strokes behind first-round leaders Jason Kokrak, Roberto Castro and James Hahn.

The 42-year-old Hall of Famer had three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey at La Quinta Country Club - one of three courses used in the pro-am event he won in 2002 and 2004. He was making his first start since tying for second in early November in the HSBC Champions in China, the only event he played after the Ryder Cup.

``When I'm not playing for a while, I really get excited to get back out and I was really amped up,'' Mickelson said. ``I was nervous today and excited to play and maybe a little over-amped because again everything was quick - my rhythm, timing, everything.''

That was apparent on the par-3 12th when he hit his tee shot short and left, leaving a 25-yard shot with a tall tree blocking his path.

Undaunted, he flashed a boyish grin, reached for his lob wedge, and hit a full-swing flop shot that climbed nearly straight up and over the tree and stopped 2 feet from the hole.

``That was one of my better wedges,'' Mickelson said. ``But, as I was telling my partner, `You hit it there as much as I do, eventually you're going to learn how to hit those shots.'''

He yelled ``Fore left!'' a second after hitting the tee shot on the 202-yard hole.

``It was just very bad timing,'' Mickelson said. ``Quick from the top, lower body fast. Just a bad swing. I did the same thing on the next par 3 with the same club. Only it went the other way. I made par both times, though.''

After the par save on 12, he hooked his drive so far right on the par-5 13th that he ended up in the rough on the adjacent 14th hole. And he pulled off another brilliant recovery shot, slicing a fairway wood high over trees and onto the green. However, his eagle try ran 12 feet past the cup and he three-putted for par.

``Gosh, I hit such a great 5-wood to 35 feet for eagle,'' Mickelson said. ``To three-putt that is just, it was just a lot of rough stuff today.''

Mickelson bogeyed the par-3 third, three-putting from the back fringe, and birdied the par-5 fifth after driving left into a fairway bunker and being forced to lay up. He made a double bogey on the par-4 10th after an aggressive drive over the trees went out of bounds.

``That hole has my number,'' Mickelson said. ``This time, it hit a tree, hit the cart path, went out of bounds by a foot. So, that hole is just my nemesis.''

He got one of the strokes back with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th, and got back to even par with a birdie on the par-4 18th, hitting an 8-iron from 168 yards to 3 feet.

``I hit a lot of fairways and was able to shake out an even-par round,'' Mickelson said. ``As bad as that is, I've got a low round in me tomorrow, I think. It doesn't feel like it's far off.''

Kokrak, Castro and Hahn shot 63.

Kokrak had two eagles and five birdies at La Quinta.

``I just tried to put it in the right spots, put it in the fairways,'' Kokrak said. ``Out there, that's key.''

Castro had nine birdies at PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Private Course, and Hahn had nine birdies on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course.

``Chipped two in,'' Hahn said. ``Hadn't done that since I was 9.''

Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner Sunday in Hawaii in his first start as a PGA Tour member, had a 64 on the Nicklaus course. He's 32 under in his first five rounds this year.

``It was a perfect day,'' Henley said. ``The weather is perfect. The greens were true. So, it's just trying to stay patient and let the birdies come to me.''

Aaron Baddeley, Greg Chalmers and Doug LaBelle II matched Henley at 64. Baddeley played the Palmer course, and Chalmers and LaBelle opened on the Nicklaus course.

Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, had a 67 at La Quinta. The Canadian left-hander has missed 16 consecutive cuts and finished only one tournament - a tie for 70th in the AT&T National in July 2011 - in his last 28 events.

``I drove it well and putted well and everything was pretty good,'' Weir said.

FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker also had a 67 at La Quinta. He's the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 8.

DIVOTS: Mickelson is opening a stretch of five or six straight events, a run that will end at Riviera or the Match Play Championship. ... The tournament is the first of seven events this year with an expanded field because of the short season. There are 156 players this year instead of 144. ... Defending champion Mark Wilson shot a 77 at La Quinta.

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Wizards blown out by Spurs, as streak of losses in San Antonio since 1999 continues

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Wizards blown out by Spurs, as streak of losses in San Antonio since 1999 continues

The Washington Wizards lost to the San Antonio Spurs 98-90 on Wednesday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Streak continues: Many will tell you that San Antonio, TX is a wonderful city rife with history, good restaurants and warm weather. Please excuse the Washington Wizards if they hate the place.

They lost to the Spurs in a blowout on Wednesday and remain winless in San Antonio going all the way back to 1999. It was their 18th straight loss when playing at the Spurs.

The Spurs win games with their defense and this one was no exception. The Wizards scored their fewest points since Jan. 22, nearly two months, and shot just 42.7 percent. The Spurs hold opponents to the lowest points per game in the NBA (99.0) and the Wizards fell into all of their traps.

Bradley Beal was the only one immune to it. He had 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting. The rest of the Wizards shot just 26-for-69 (37.7%).

Losing in San Antonio has come to be expected for the Wizards, but they picked a bad night to drop a game. The Cavaliers and Sixers both won. Philly winning means more because they passed the Wizards in the East and currently sit fourth while the Wizards are in the sixth spot. 

If the playoffs began with those seeds, the Wizards would see the Cavaliers in the first round. Even though the Cavs aren't what they were a year ago, that should be avoided if possible.


Hustle plays: The Spurs also beat the Wizards at the minor details of the game, something they have long been good at under head coach Gregg Popovich. They got the loose balls and offensive rebounds at key moments to either sustain or steal momentum away from Washington.

In the first half, 40-year-old Manu Ginobli dove on the ground to beat Ramon Sessions to a loose ball and it led to two points by Pau Gasol. In the third quarter, Patty Mills flipped around quickly to steal an outlet pass from Marcin Gortat that led to free throws. And in the third there was one play when the Spurs got three offensive rebounds and ultimately got to the free throw line again.

The Spurs out-rebounded the Wizards 43-34 overall and outdid them in offensive rebounds 12-8. They just wanted it more on this particular night.


Oubre stood out: The Spurs' defense got the best of most players on the Wizards, but Kelly Oubre, Jr. was an exception. The third-year pro has been struggling with his shot in recent weeks, so in this one he stuck to high percentage looks, at least early. He had 10 points in his first nine minutes on 5-for-7 shooting, many of those attempts right around the rim.

Oubre attacked the lane dribbling both to his left and his right. He finished with floaters, tough layups and on one fastbreak with a thunderous left-handed slam:

Oubre ended up with 21 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. He shot 9-for-17 from the field and 3-for-6 from three.

Oubre has continued to make an impact defensively, even when his shot is not falling. But he has to get more creative some nights to affect games when he isn't hitting from long range. Wednesday was a good example of how he can use his athleticism to take matters into his own hands.

It is a tricky balance, however, because sometimes his aggression can lead to mistakes. That certainly happened at times even in this game, as he had two turnovers. But when Oubre can contain his explosiveness, he can make a big difference.


Under the weather: Already without Wall, the Wizards had to shorten their rotation by two players against the Spurs as both Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott were out due to flu-like symptoms. In Meeks and Scott, the Wizards were missing two key pieces on their bench.

Instead of giving Tim Frazier and Jason Smith a rare and extended opportunity, head coach Scott Brooks instead chose to tighted things up. He relied heavily on the starters until the game was out of hand.

Brooks also got experimental, playing Tomas Satoransky (zero points, 0-for-7 FG) and Sessions together in the second quarter with Oubre and Otto Porter (12 points, seven rebounds) as the forwards. In the fourth quarter, we saw a lineup with three point guards: Sessions, Frazier and Satoransky.

The fact the Wizards had three days off before this game helped allow Brooks to rely on his starters early. It was also an opportunity for Brooks to see what life will be like when Wall returns. There is a chance Satoransky could see more time off the ball. This gave him another glimpse of how he can use Satoransky in more creative ways once the minutes at point guard go down significantly.


Up next: The Wizards are off Thursday before returning home to host the Denver Nuggets on Friday with a 7 p.m. tipoff on NBC Sports Washington. That will be a special night at Capital One Arena as the Wizards retire Phil Chenier's No. 45 jersey. 

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Should Bradley Beal be an All-NBA selection?


Wizards Tipoff podcast: Should Bradley Beal be an All-NBA selection?

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, host Chase Hughes was joined by guest co-host Travis Thomas to break down Bradley Beal's All-NBA chances and John Wall's injury rehab.

They also discussed the crazy Eastern Conference playoff race, Trae Young's draft stock and essentials for a good snow day.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!