By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LAKE FOREST, Illinois (Reuters) - Three late birdies gave Phil Mickelson a welcome boost at the BMW Championship on Thursday after he came into the penultimate FedExCup playoff event unprepared and effectively flying blind.
The American left-hander had not seen the par-71 layout at Conway Farms Golf Club until he teed off in the opening round, and had to rely a great deal on his experienced caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, as he fired a one-under-par 70.
"Yeah, it wasn't the way I wanted to prepare for an event, having not seen a course," Mickelson told reporters after birdies at the 14th, 15th and 16th helped him cover the back nine in two-under 34.
"I wanted to get in here and play a practice round Tuesday and Wednesday, and obviously I wasn't able to do that. But Bones guided me around here. I'll feel more comfortable tomorrow.
"I'll have to get a little bit more aggressive. I think I was a little cautious today not knowing what to expect. But the golf course is in wonderful shape. The greens are spectacular."
Mickelson, who ended the round tied for 18th, seven shots off the lead, was reluctant to give any specific reason for his failure to arrive at Conway Farms for the tournament build-up.
Asked to explain why he had arrived only in time for Thursday's opening round, the world number three replied: "Not really, I can't. I got in last night."
Asked whether a family matter had caused his late arrival, Mickelson replied: "Everything is fine. I'm here now, I'm ready to play. But I just needed to be a little cautious this first round before I attack it tomorrow."
Mickelson, who clinched his fifth major title at the British Open in July, had been expecting to produce better form in the PGA Tour's playoff events after finishing the series opener, The Barclays, in a tie for sixth after closing with a 65.
"I didn't play like I thought I was going to at (the) Deutsche Bank (Championship) after that final round at Barclays," he said. "And I didn't have a good practice session today, and it hasn't quite clicked.
"But it started to come in the last nine. I started to hit some good shots, but I don't feel like I'm sharp. I don't feel like I'm prepared, and I'm going to have to kind of play my way into this tournament."
Mickelson said his frame of mind standing on the first tee had not been affected by failure to play any practice rounds on the course.
"That wasn't the issue," he explained. "I actually had a warm-up session that wasn't great, and I was more nervous because of that. But I was able to kind of get it turned around.
"My swing and my game does not feel far off from the levels that I was playing at this summer, but it is still a fraction off. It just needs to kind of click. I'm optimistic that (on) back nine, that it may have done that."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Peter Rutherford)