Mick­el­son 4 shots off lead at BMW

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Steve DiMeglio

Now that the heat is off, Phil Mick­el­son is fi­nally start­ing to warm up.

Mick­el­son, who hasn’t won since the 2013 Bri­tish Open and had just three top-10s in his first

19 starts this year, is feel­ing more like his old self th­ese days and his play is fi­nally a ben­e­fi­ciary.

Un­der clear skies and in per­fect scor­ing con­di­tions, he toured Con­way Farms Golf Club in just

66 strokes in the first round of the BMW Cham­pi­onship, the third tour­na­ment of the FedExCup Play­offs. That left Lefty four shots off the pace-set­ting ways of Marc Leish­man, who shot a 9-un­der­par 62.

Jamie Love­mark, Charley Hoff­man and Ja­son Day, play­ing with a new cad­die for the first time in his ca­reer, each shot 64. Last week Day, who won the BMW Cham­pi­onship at Con­way in 2015, parted ways with Colin Swat­ton, who re­mains his coach.

In a group at 65 were FedExCup leader Jor­dan Spi­eth and Rickie Fowler, who reeled off six con­sec­u­tive birdies.

Mick­el­son started turn­ing the cor­ner in the sec­ond play­off event, where he tied for sixth in the Dell Tech­nolo­gies Cham­pi­onship at TPC Bos­ton. Mick­el­son said he no longer is plagued by a

lack of en­ergy and fo­cus that hurt his game through­out the year af­ter con­sult­ing with the doc­tor who guided him af­ter his pso­ri­atic arthri­tis di­ag­no­sis in 2010.

Also boost­ing his spir­its is his ad­di­tion to the Pres­i­dents Cup team that faces the In­ter­na­tion­als on Sept. 28- Oct. 1 in New Jer­sey. Mick­el­son was one of two cap­tain’s se­lec­tions made by Steve Stricker two days af­ter play con­cluded at TPC Bos­ton. Mick­el­son, who hasn’t missed a Pres­i­dents Cup or a Ry­der Cup since 1994, will rep­re­sent the U.S. for the 23rd time in team play.

“I cer­tainly feel a lot less pres­sure now,” said Mick­el­son, a win­ner of 42 PGA Tour ti­tles, in­clud­ing five ma­jor cham­pi­onships. “I wanted to get on the team. I was re­ally feel­ing the heat, but play­ing well in Bos­ton made it a lot eas­ier. ...

“I re­ally wanted to be there. I'm so glad that I am and this week is more a con­tin­u­a­tion of Bos­ton, where I was able to get my en­ergy back up, get my fo­cus back up, and I think go­ing bo­gey-free shows that I'm much more in tune with each shot.”

A de­jected Mick­el­son left the PGA Cham­pi­onship af­ter miss­ing the cut, say­ing his fo­cus was non-ex­is­tent, his vi­su­al­iza­tion of cer­tain shots was shaky and his en­ergy level near empty. He had a lack­lus­ter per­for­mance in the first play­off event, the North­ern Trust, where he tied for 54th. But Mick­el­son said his doc­tor told him it would take about two weeks for him to get bet­ter and Bos­ton was the sec­ond week.

Mick­el­son hasn’t di­vulged what ailed him or if he’s tak­ing med­i­ca­tion, but his tank is full, and his fo­cus sharp.

“It's fun to play a good, solid open­ing round and not feel like I'm hav­ing to play catch-up the whole time there­after,” said Mick­el­son, who likely needs a fin­ish of 13th or bet­ter to ad­vance to next week’s Tour Cham­pi­onship, the FedExCup Play­offs fi­nale.

“I also feel that it was as high as I could have shot to­day given the num­ber of birdie op­por­tu­ni­ties I had and how well I played,” Mick­el­son added. “It feels great to be able to have en­ergy through­out the round and keep my fo­cus up. I'm re­ally ex­cited with some sim­ple changes I've made in the last month to get my game back. ...

“I mean it's only been five rounds, but af­ter Bos­ton I feel the mo­men­tum is start­ing to kick in.”

Leish­man made it look easy with 10 birdies, in­clud­ing a stretch of seven in nine holes around the turn. The win­ner of the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional fin­ished third in Bos­ton and is sev­enth in the FedExCup stand­ings.

THOMAS J. RUSSO, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Phil Mick­el­son shot a 66 in the first round of the BMW Cham­pi­onship on Thurs­day.

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