LA QUINTA, Calif. — Five months away from his 50th birthday, Phil Mickelson is still a long, long ways from the senior tour.
“When I stop hitting bombs I'll play the Champions Tour, but I'm hitting some crazy bombs right now,” Mickelson said Wednesday, a day before he opens the year at The American Express.
Mickelson is doubling as tournament host at the desert pro-am event that has a new title sponsor and name.
“I want to make sure it's a first-class experience for everybody here, that the CEOs that we have brought in, that the people we have brought in have this great experience,” Micklelson said.
Competing for the first time since early November, he showed up at PGA West a little better prepared than usual because of his added responsibilities as host.
“I'm spending a little bit more time making sure that the week goes well for everybody," said Mickelson, the tournament winner in 2002 and 2004. “So, I had to spend the last seven, 10 days working with (swing coach) Andrew Getson and working with (short game coach) Dave Pelz getting my game sharp so that I was ready when I got here. I think I am, but until you tee it up, you really don't know."
After a fast start last year with a second-place tie at PGA West and a victory at Pebble Beach, Mickelson struggled the rest of the year.
“I'm curious as probably anybody is to see how well I play," Mickelson said. “I've tried to address a lot of weaknesses or areas that needed to improve and my motivation is back. This is the best I've felt in years, maybe even decades. Physically, there's nothing holding me back from playing some of my best golf.”
Instead of the PGA Tour Champions, the Hall of Famer is focused on making the U.S. Ryder Cup team after failing to qualify for the Presidents Cup.
“I don't often voice too many goals, but one of them is to make the Ryder Cup,” Mickelson said. “So, I need to play enough tournaments out here and play well to be able to achieve that particular goal.”
He only wants to play in the Ryder Cup if he qualifies.
“I don't want to be a pick. I've got to earn it,” Mickelson said. “I'm at the point where I've got to earn my spot. There's eight spots out there and if I play well I'll make it. If I play to the level that I believe I'm capable of I'll make the team. But if not, you've got to give those spots to some younger guys that haven't had the chance to play and compete the way I have.”
Lefty will play alongside Tony Finau the first three days, opening Thursday at La Quinta Country Club in the second group off the first tee. They will play PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course on Friday, then the adjacent Stadium Course — also the site of the final round — on Saturday.
Defending champion Adam Long and Paul Casey will tee off in the group ahead of Mickelson and Finau on Thursday, with wind expected to gust to 25 mph after two windy weeks for the tour in Hawaii.
Last year, Long made a 14-foot birdie putt on the final hole for his first PGA Tour title. He closed with a 7-under 65 to beat playing partners Mickelson and Adam Hadwin by a stroke. Mickelson, the leader after each of the first three rounds, struggled with his putting in a 69.
Finau, at No. 15 in the world, is the top-ranked player in the field. No. 17 Paul Casey, No. 20 Francesco Molinari and No. 22 Rickie Fowler are the only other top-25 players. Mickelson is 79th.
Fowler is playing the event for the first time in six years. He grew up about an hour away.
More AP golf: https://apnews.com/apf-Golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports