SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Feb. 26, 2010) – After almost every round Phil Mickelson has played this year he’s said, “I’m close,” and “if I can go low tomorrow I can get into contention.”
Close, that is, to playing the way he was expecting to play when his season started four weeks and three events ago. Close to rediscovering the putting form that he used to close out the 2010 season with two convincing victories over strong fields. Close to going low. Close to getting into contention.
After Thursday’s three under par 68 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he said it again. He meant it, he believed it, but after nine holes Friday, the back nine at the TPC Sawgrass, with its two of the course’s three par-5s, he had slipped to 2-over par and was tied for 56th, right on the projected cut line.
Somewhere between the climb up the hill from the 18th green to the clubhouse and the 75-yard walk to the left toward the first tee, Mickelson must have heard his cue, John Cleese intoning, “And now, for something completely different.”
Thursday he birdied the first two holes on the front, missed a short birdie on the par-5 third and limped home in 1-under 34 for the nine.
Friday he shot 31 and looked completely different from the guy who only once in 12 rounds this year had gone bogey-free on the inward half, let alone the guy who made two bogeys against one birdie on his front nine.
“Sometimes it’s just little adjustments you have to make,” he said. “After 16 (his seventh hole of the day) I just simplified (the putting stroke and let it go.” The putter and the driver, for that matter.
Mickelson reached the 554-yard third hole after a 342-yard drive in the fairway, his longest of the year, and birdied from 33 feet. On the short fourth he made a 19-foot birdie, his first made putt longer than 10 feet in the two rounds. After a 327-yard drive on 5 he made a 5-foot birdie.
He saved par with solid putts from 12 feet on 6, and four on 7 and then hit it to three feet for another score on 8.
When he signed for a 3-under 68 he was tied for sixth, up 50 spots in nine holes. The afternoon wave was just going out and when darkness fell Mickelson was tied for 25th, one of 38 players five shots off the lead. But the really good news, encouraging news, something completely different, was that his putting had finally caught up with his ball-striking.