San Diego - Phil Mickelson tried to emulate Jack Nicklaus by taking a conservative approach in the opening round of the San Diego Open on Thursday and was satisfied after carding a two-under-par 70.
The American left-hander, the top draw at Torrey Pines this week in the conspicuous absence of world number one Tiger Woods, recorded five birdies and three bogeys after tackling the more difficult South Course.
"I'll take a couple under on the South Course," San Diego native Mickelson told reporters after finishing six strokes off the lead in his first competitive round of the year.
"I played a little cautious today, trying to not make too many mistakes (to) keep myself in it because tomorrow the North is a course that provides the opportunity to shoot a low round."
The scoring average on the brutal 7 698-yard South Course was 72.769 on Thursday, more than 2-½ shots tougher than on the 6,986-yard North layout.
"I want to work my way in the tournament," said Mickelson, a three-times winner of the PGA Tour event who lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe.
"Nicklaus used to talk about that in majors, that he wanted to try to progress as the week went along. I didn't want to try to come out and win the tournament on Thursday because it's just not possible.
"I wanted to try to build into it, so I'm hoping I play better tomorrow and shoot a low score on the North, good enough to get myself in contention for the weekend.
"The North is where you can make up some ground. The par-fives are reachable and there are some shorter par-fours where you can take advantage."
Although Mickelson totalled 33 putts in the opening round with three lip-outs, he was happy with his overall play after making birdies on all four par-fives.
"I thought I drove it pretty well," the 39-year-old said. "I missed a couple of fairways but I was able to take advantage of the par-fives because I played some good drives in the fairway.
"The South is difficult because it's playing long and it's hard to get the ball close. The greens are spongy and balls seem to kind of get deflected away with all the contours."
Mickelson, a 37-times winner on the PGA Tour, is bidding for his first victory at Torrey Pines since 2001.