Gil LeBreton

Time to welcome Mickelson, not question why he left

His golf game may be a little different, but Phil Mickelson still has a nice touch.

In fact, standing in the interview area, about 20 yards from the 18th green, Mickelson was as smooth and diplomatic as a guest could be after Thursday’s first round.

Where have you been, Phil, the fans at Colonial have been wondering? After all, seven years have passed since Mickelson missed the cut and later claimed that the course no longer suited his “power advantage.”

Old news, perhaps. But when a favorite son suddenly reappears on the doorstep, the questioning should not be considered out of line.

Mickelson, however, isn’t rehashing the reasons for his absence.

And when the media has asked him – five different times in five differently worded ways over two days – what made him return, Phil has stroked the answer like a warm 9-iron through butter.

“Nothing real specific,” he said Wednesday. “Just, you know, I’m excited to be back here and playing. No real specific reason.”

Let it be noted that Mickelson’s game, on and off the course, was just as deft Thursday.

Finishing with three consecutive birdies, Mickelson shot a 3-under 67 to finish the day in a tie for seventh place.

And again came the question.

“Nothing real specific,” the two-time Colonial champion said, when asked why he decided to return. “It’s been awhile, and I felt it was in my best interests to try to play more events and try to get the scores and results out of it. And I felt the best way to do that is to play rather than practice at home.

“So I added it. It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed it.”

That buttery response came after WFAA-TV’s Joe Trahan earlier posed a query to Mickelson that was so succinctly worded, Phil seemed to chuckle before he again snuffed any trace of controversy.

Trahan asked him, “As your game has evolved, does it feel better out here for you?”

“I don’t know,” Mickelson said, again finding a comfortable neutral corner. “It’s been awhile since I played here.

“I enjoyed the first round. I’ve had fun. We had some nice conditions. So it was a fun start.”

Mickelson downplayed the theory that he is using a return to Colonial only as a way of preparing for next month’s U.S. Open.

No, he said Thursday. He just wants to start shooting some lower scores.

“That’s what is on my mind right now, not a tournament a month from now,” he said.

OK. I’m good with that. We’re going to have to be.

The media has tried to coax a snippy retort out of Mickelson, but Lefty isn’t biting. And why, frankly, should it now matter?

If an estranged favorite returns home, is a detailed explanation really necessary? Isn’t it enough just to have him home?

At 46, a different Mickelson is back on the tees at Colonial. In 2009, he was robustly driving the ball 300-plus yards on the tour. At last check, Mickelson now is 65th (293.8 yards) in the driving distance standings.

This week’s Colonial hosts need to take something Mickelson said to heart.

“Here, you hit a good shot, you get rewarded,” he observed. “As opposed to many of the modern-day courses that have severely pitched, double-breaking putts and you’re playing defense all the time.”

Leave the course alone, in other words, and one of the tournament’s most popular past champions may well be back.

Next question, please.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

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