Mickelson pleased with four-under effort in 2017 debut

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Phil Mickelson professed himself "very happy" with a first-round 68 in the US PGA Tour Career Builder Challenge on Thursday, the five-time major winner's first competitive round in more than three months.

"I thought it was phenomenal," said Mickelson, who underwent surgery in October and December to repair a sports hernia and only began hitting balls a week ago.

"I struck it horrible, but I scored out of my mind, so I'm very happy with it," the 46-year-old left-hander said. "My first round of golf was Saturday and I've been able to work out just the last two weeks. The last three months I haven't been able to do much at all."

Chilly, rainy weather -- unusual for the California desert east of Los Angeles -- greeted the morning starters.

But Mickelson said the tournament courses were the "perfect place" to launch his season.

"Around here you can get away with some mistakes and I was able to salvage a few pars with up and downs," he said.

Mickelson nabbed four birdies in the first nine holes at La Quinta, one of three courses in use for the tournament.

That included a 42-footer for birdie at the ninth. He saved par at 16 with delicate chip and run from the fringe, and followed his lone bogey of the day at 17 with a 10-foot birdie at the last.

Mickelson, a two-time winner of the event, was three shots off the early pace set by Harold Varner and Patton Kizzire, who were both in the clubhouse on seven-under 65.

Varner's round at La Quinta included an eagle and six birdies, while Kizzire had seven birdies without a bogey on the Nicklaus Tournament Course.