Mickelson: Early pairing welcome

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Early-round tournament groupings with Tiger Woods are rare for Phil Mickelson, but Lefty would welcome that scenario if it happened in two weeks at the Masters.

"I think it would be great," Mickelson said Thursday of the possibility of playing in the same threesome during Woods' much-anticipated return to golf. "The [PGA] Tour hasn't paired us together since ... since I've been out on tour. It's never happened before. But I think it'd be great. I'd love it."

Mickelson shot 1-under-par 71 during the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club to trail first-round leaders Davis Love III and J.B. Holmes by five strokes.

Ranked third in the world and a two-time Masters champion, Mickelson is trying to find the form he displayed at the end of 2009, when he won the Tour Championship and the HSBC Champions in China.

Those victories seemingly set up an inviting 2010 season, especially since Woods was coming off a six-win PGA Tour campaign.

But all of that was put on hold when Woods' one-car Nov. 27 accident led to reports of marital infidelity and a leave from the game. Woods announced last week that the Masters would be his first tournament.

"I think we're all excited to have him back," Mickelson said. "We all know the importance that he is to the game. We as players are excited to have him back."

So far this year, Mickelson has yet to contend on Sunday, with his best finish a tie for eighth at Pebble Beach. He plans to play next week's PGA Tour event in Houston as well.

Mickelson overtook Woods last September to win the Tour Championship on the final day, while Woods still came away with the overall FedEx Cup title.

They were also involved in a memorable duel at last year's Masters, where they played in the same twosome several groups in front of the leaders, at one point both pulling within a shot of the top spot.

Mickelson shot a final-round 67 and finished fifth, three strokes out of the playoff won by Angel Cabrera. Woods, who has won the Masters four times but not since 2005, shot 68 and was four shots back, tied for sixth.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com.