Ailing Phil Mickelson cards 71

Updated: July 31, 2014, 6:48 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AKRON, Ohio -- Phil Mickelson feels good about his game heading into an important part of the schedule.

The problem is, he doesn't feel good about his health.

Mickelson said he contracted strep throat shortly after returning home from the Open Championship and has barely been able to practice. He didn't arrive here until Wednesday night -- skipping a practice round at Firestone Country Club.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
AP Images/Mark DuncanPhil Mickelson contracted strep throat shortly after returning home from the Open Championship and has barely been able to practice leading up to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

He managed to shoot 1-over 71 in the opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and trailed leader Marc Leishman by seven strokes.

"I had a nice day today, but I haven't been able to practice; I've been a little sick,'' Mickelson said. "But my game after the British ... I'm very optimistic. I know the direction I want to go in with my golf swing. I'm putting well again. I feel like my game is on the way back. It has to all start to click. It felt close today.

"I feel fine. I just didn't want to come and get anybody else sick. I wanted to wait until I wasn't contagious anymore. And I wanted to play the week before the PGA (Championship). If I'm going to have a good chance next week at a golf course I've played well at in the past, I needed to get sharp. I needed to get out and play.''

Mickelson, 44, who has 42 victories on the PGA Tour, never has gone this long into a year without a top-10. He tied for second at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January on the European Tour and has rarely contended while missing three cuts, including the Masters and the Players Championship.

But Mickelson has been saying for several weeks that he is close. He tied for 11th at the Scottish Open and tied for 24th at the Open Championship in his last starts.

The WGC-Bridgestone and next week's PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville are the last two events to earn qualifying points for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Mickelson is 11th in the points standings entering the week, with the top 9 through the PGA automatically qualifying.

Money earned is converted into points, with the total doubled at the PGA. Mickelson has played on every U.S. Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team dating to 1994, and never has needed a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup.

U.S. captain Tom Watson will make three at-large selections on Sept. 2. The Ryder Cup begins Sept. 26, at Gleneagles in Scotland. The PGA of America has been told by Dustin Johnson's representatives that he won't play in the Ryder Cup.

"Yeah, it's been a really good streak that I've had going, and I have not had to rely on a captain's selection in two decades, and I'd like to keep that going," he said. "I definitely want to be in Scotland, a country that I've played some good golf in the last few years and I always enjoy going back to.

"So it would be nice and beneficial, I think, if I were able to play my way on the team by myself. And I feel like I'm starting to play well enough to do it now.''

Zach Johnson, who is ninth in the standings, shot 72 in the opening round. Patrick Reed, in 10th position, opened with a 67. Moore is 14th in the standings.

Mickelson tried to take the positive outlook regarding his recovery from strep throat.

"I played some of my best golf when I was sick, too,'' he said. "It's been awhile now, but back in San Diego (2001), I ended up being in the hospital with an IV on Tuesday and Wednesday and ended up winning.

"I remember doing that at Doral (2009) the night before the final round (WGC-CA Championship), and you come out, and it just kind of slows your mind down. You don't get ahead of yourself. You don't rush things. Sometimes you play your best golf like that.''

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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