PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Phil Mickelson hit his ball in the water only once Thursday and wound up saving par on that hole just the same.
You might say that Lefty and PGA National's Champion course were simply feeling each other out, like boxers as much as golfers in the opening round, each seeing how much pressure the other could withstand.
The result was an even-par 70, as dull a round as you'll ever see Mickelson play.
He'll probably make the Honda Classic's 36-hole cut Friday, which is good news for the tournament, plus everybody knows that watching Lefty play golf is never dull for long, which is even better.
"It's not as if I hit bad shots per se, but I didn't hit the right shot for the wind and the conditions to get the ball close to the hole," Phil told a handful of reporters behind the 18th green.
The bulk of the international media band understandably was up in the interview room at that moment, listening to Rory McIlroy talk about his 63, the first round's best score.
Has Phil got one of those regal rounds in him this weekend? You'd have to say so, knowing that the guy shot a final-round 66 last summer to win the British Open with the wind whipping off the Firth of Forth.
So far, there's been only a mild breeze blowing off the big lake alongside PGA National's signature finishing hole, and that lake isn't even famous enough to have a name, so there's nothing to intimidate Mickelson here.
"The course was in wonderful condition," said Mickelson, who grinned his way around the course in large part because the large gallery following him was in a wonderful mood, too.
Tiger Woods usually gets the biggest assist from the crowd and he had plenty following him Thursday during a sluggish 71, but there clearly is fresh fascination with Phil's first appearance in the Honda Classic since the tournament's Broward County days.
The party kept right on pumping outside the rope, for instance, even after Mickelson chopped it around in the rough near the No. 7 green for a double bogey.
Of course, not every scramble spawns a celebration, even with a player so gifted in the art of the short game, and so well-practiced in finding the most interesting corners of each course.
With Phil, though, fans consistently expect miracles, and especially appreciate his gambling pursuit of the same.
Back, then, to that par from the water, which came on No. 2, and which wouldn't have been necessary if Phil's drive of 271 yards had gone anywhere near where he was aiming. There's a small water hazard way to the left down there, and that's where Mickelson found his ball, in trouble but not beyond the bounds of his fertile imagination.
"It was in the water but it was only about a third submerged," said Phil, "so I was able to get a club on it cleanly."
Not only that, he, too, was able to emerge from that ugly scene relatively cleanly, with only a thin spatter or two of mud on his white shirt.
After that it was easy. Phil strode over past the cart path on the far right of the hole, where his next shot, a 98-yard approach off a bed of pine straw, awaited. It checked up 10 feet from the flag, igniting the fans to such a fever pitch that one of them began screaming the more formal, "Let's go, Phillip," either out of respect or shock.
Of course, Mickelson made the putt, which turned out to be his longest of the day. Most of the easier ones, those that came without a red alert, failed to drop.
Lefty just wouldn't be Lefty if he always did it right, yet he's won five majors just the same.
Take all the hooting and hollering that would have accompanied a great tee shot by Phil on No. 17 Thursday. Now take what really happened, a par save from down on the edge of the lake in front of the green, and the noise gets somehow doubled.
"I got very lucky that the ball stayed up," Mickelson said. "It shouldn't have.
"It hit high on the bank, above the (hazard) line, and got caught up in the last foot or so of the water. Then it had a great lie, so I got very lucky in turning a five into a three there."
That turned out to be the difference between a regular 70 and a rude 72, and that's living on the edge.
Friday, beginning on the No. 10 tee at 7:35 a.m., Phil will take another swing at the Champion. The feeling-out process is over. What comes next figures to be a knockout, one way or the other.