Phil Mickelson's first-ever shot at Conway Farms was not exactly one for the ages.
With a breeze blowing in his face and the image of defending champion Rory McIlroy on a nearby sign with the words "GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES," Mickelson selected his 5-wood for the 344-yard first hole at the BMW Championship on Thursday. He sliced it into the left rough near some trees.
Feeling a bit blind on the first tee, Phil?
"That wasn't the issue," he said. "I actually had a warm-up session that wasn't great, and I was more nervous because of that."
As he walked to his ball, an older gentleman outside the ropes said: "Phil, glad to have you here."
Mickelson had canceled his Wednesday pro-am appearance, citing a family issue. He declined to offer specifics Thursday, saying: "Everything is fine. I'm here now."
Mickelson downplayed the fact that he teed off Thursday without having seen Conway Farms, the first North Shore course to host a PGA Tour event since Sunset Ridge had the 1972 Western Open.
"Bones guided me around," he said of caddie Jim Mackay, who arrived early in the week. "I'll feel more comfortable (Friday). I was a little cautious today not knowing what to expect."
He patched it together enough to come home in 1-under 70, a solid score on a day in which players backed off putts because of the strong wind in Lake Forest.
Although Brandt Snedeker torched the joint by making seven straight birdies, several accomplished players put up hideous scores. Rickie Fowler shot 77, McIlroy needed 78 shots and Lee Westwood 80, a sign that Conway Farms was a wise choice to replace Cog Hill in the FedEx Cup tournament lineup.
The par-4 15th played just 301 yards on Thursday, but a stiff headwind prevented players from trying to drive it. Keegan Bradley pulled his approach from 117 yards into the water, slammed his club to the turf and marched to the green, steam spouting from his ears.
"That's one of those shots you hit once a year, just terrible," said Bradley, who shot 74. "It's a tough golf course. It was blowing out there."
Another sign of success: The midday announcement that Thursday tickets had sold out, representing a crowd of about 25,000.
Golf fans flocked to Cog Hill when it hosted the Western Open around the 4th of July. But the Thursday and Friday crowds for the BMW in September were supermodel-thin.
Mickelson protested a Rees Jones-renovated green at Cog Hill by chipping on it. He kept his wedges off the greens Thursday.
"The golf course is in wonderful shape," he said. "The greens are spectacular. They're difficult because they have a lot of double-breaking putts."
Mickelson saved par on No. 1 with a downhill 10-footer. Right after he struck his approach to the 205-yard second hole, he said: "Get up."
The ball settled in the middle of three greenside bunkers, left of the target.
"We want to see that short game, Phil," one spectator commented.
He hit a gorgeous bunker shot to 41/2 feet, then blew the par putt past on the high side.