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Waste Management Phoenix Open - Round Two

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.

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am - Round Three

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Feb. 14, 2010) – They think of almost everything at Pebble Beach, from attentive service in the world class hotels to the best chocolate chip cookie on the PGA Tour, but Phil Mickelson left one of his favorite venues with no love at all.

The longest putt he made all week was from 10 feet on the 12th hole at Pebble Beach Saturday and that for a sand-save par.

The last thing he said before going to the first tee Sunday morning with K.J. Choi and his amateur partner, Hollis Craven, was, “I’m hitting it great. I’m thinking 64.”

The first thing he said when he finished a round of 71 that took nearly six hours to play was, “It’s hard to shoot 64 when you’re two-putting on every hole.”

It seemed like that, anyway. There were six 1-putts: three par saves and three birdies, the last on 18, which was enough to earn his first top-10 of the year, a share of eighth place, five shots off the lead.

For all his woes on the greens he did take away two things to look forward to when he returns from a long-delayed family vacation this week: sessions with short game aides Dave Stockton and Dave Pelz and an idea of what’s to come when the U.S. Open visits Pebble Beach in June.

“It was valuable to see the cut lines for the Open (fairways),” said Mickelson. “Especially with the way they’ve moved several holes closer to the water, I see a very defensive approach, a lot of 3-woods, hybrids, maybe irons off the tees.”

As for the par-5s, which on the pricey but public course are nearly wide enough to land jets side-by-side, the second will be a narrow strip down the middle of the existing fairway; the sixth will be moved to the right, within yards of the cliff over Carmel Bay; the dogleg-right 14th has been moved left, making it a longer drive to the short grass and the 18th will be a stripe down the middle of the current fairway, with those two signature pine trees right in the middle of it.

Sunday Mickelson hit a drive 310 yards over the bunkers in the dogleg on 14, then bombed his 3-wood 279 yards uphill and over the green. He may not find that drive in June. On 18, with a wind he’d never seen in umpteen playings of Pebble, into him on the tee, he hit it 270 in the fairway that won’t be there in June and then cranked his 3-wood to the ramp in front of the green.

Hey, it was fun while it lasted at Pebble Beach, off the tee if not on the greens. And after consulting with his consultants next weekend, Mickelson hopes the fun resumes in Scottsdale.

“I certainly expected to play better score better these last three weeks,” said Mickelson, “but they’ve given me some thing s to work on. I like the way I’m hitting it but it’s discouraging to keep hitting it 8 to 12 feet and not make anything. I’m not far off. I’m looking forward to doing a little fine-tuning with Pelz and Dave Stockton. Once I see a few start falling in I’ll be on my way.”

PGA TOUR - AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am - Round Three

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Feb. 12, 2010) – It was a good second round in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, very good, but the first thing Phil Mickelson said after his post-round autograph session was, “My goodness, that could have been really good.”

Caddie Jim Mackay agreed but he also called it, “One of the five weirdest rounds I’ve ever caddied.”

Mickelson retuned to Spyglass Hill Friday in need of a good round. His opening 68 left him in a share of 42nd place. But he set the tournament course record there, a 62 shot in 2005, is driving it long on the sodden courses and hitting a lot of greens.

Starting on 10, he birdied his first two par-5s, 11 and 14, made a 20-foot putt on 16, a 25-foot downhiller on 17 and a 30-footer on 18 to get to 7-under for the tournament. He also missed three putts of 10 feet or less.

Then came No. 1, the par-5 that rolls downhill and sweeps left leaving a view of the wide green framed by bunkers in front and the ocean in back, as stunning an opening hole as there is on the PGA Tour.

Mickelson has had all sorts of adventures there and another chapter was added on Friday. He blocked his drive right, toward the pines towering over underbrush and deep grass. As the group approached the supposed landing area, Bones asked the three marshals sanding in the middle of the fairway if they had the ball.

No, came the answer, but we heard it over there somewhere. After five fruitless minutes of searching, Mickelson played his provisional ball from the fairway to just off the right edge of the green. It was the second time in three rounds, going back to Sunday at Riviera, that a drive went over marshals’ heads and was declared lost.

As he addressed a long chip from the rough, one of the other caddies in the group rattled his clubs, and apparently Mickelson, and the chip came up well short, leading to a double bogey.

Thirty minutes later the caddie was still so shaken that he didn’t realize until too late that Brian Gay and his amateur partner, Joe Kernan, played each other’s balls from just off the third green, resulting in a penalty on Gay and the team.

The fifth is a par-4 that bends left toward a green that appears buried in the grass-covered dunes. Every single year, sometimes as early as the first hole, Bones suggests a layup off the tee and Mickelson insists on hitting driver. That made for a number of adventures when ice plant stretched along the left side of the fairway. This year Mickelson didn’t wait to start the debate at Spyglass. He brought it up on 18 at Riviera on Sunday.

“That pretty much told me he had his mind made up,” said Bones, although on the tee there was a lot of pointing hither and yon before Mickelson crushed a drive 300 yards to a secondary fairway in front of the green. “And what happens?” said Bones. “We’re in a divot.” Par.

Birdies on the par-3 third and par-5 7th got Mickelson back to 7-under. On the 8th he pushed his drive into the left rough. There was a tree leaning in on his right and Spanish moss dripping of another tree straight ahead. He was in a wet, cuppy lie with mud on the right side of his ball.

A minute later Bones said, “Early leader for shot of the year: 180 yards uphill from the rough, 20-yard slice with a 4-iron to 6 feet, tops.”

But again he missed a birdie putt he very well might have made, as he did on 9 when his 15-foot birdie limped left and low at the end. After two days Mickelson ranked third in driving distance, first on greens in regulation and 102nd in putting average. His next two rounds are at Pebble Beach.

It was a very good round and a very weird one that left Mickelson smiling about being just four shots off the lead but thinking about what might have been.

PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 11:  Phil Mickelson and Bob Diamond, Jr. bump fists after a birdie on the fifth hole during round one of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Monterey Peninsula Country Club Shore Course on February 11, 2010 in Pebble Beach, California.   (Photo by Chris Condon/US PGA TOUR)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Feb. 11, 2010) – For years, if it was Wednesday of AT&T Pebble Beach week then Phil Mickelson & Co., were playing Cypress Point. A few handfuls of other pros and the CBS golf team would be over there, too. For good reason. The course lives up to its storied reputation. As much of a dream it is for most amateurs to play Pebble Beach, it’s the same for pros and Cypress Point.

Phil didn’t play there this week. He played Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore course instead, and loved it.

In 2002 architect Michael Strantz undertook a major overhaul of the original 1926 design by scraping out 45 acres of non-native ice plant, rerouting and reshaping the original design, covering the entire place with sand and running 45 miles of drainage pipe under it. This year it replaced Poppy Hills on the tournament rotation.

“I like this course a lot,” said Mickelson, “it’s one my favorites on tour. Mike Strantz did a great job. It’s really a wonderful track and a great addition to the tournament.”

Wednesday there he and Pro-Am partner Bob Diamond, president of Barclays Capital, handled Charles Schwab and KPMG CEO Tim Flynn. Thursday he shot a disappointing 2 under par 68.

Over the last two weeks there had been a lot joking about players looking for Ping Eye 2 wedges on E-Bay. Mickelson might start looking there to buy a putt if things don’t get turned around pretty quickly. He’s striking it really well, hitting plenty of greens but missing so many putts by inches, running over edges, watching them flatten out in the last few rolls after breaking several inches in a 10-foot putt.

If nothing else he could channel his first meeting with CNBC host Joe Kernan, who paired with Brian Gay to round out the foursome for the first three rounds this week.

A couple of days after the 2004 Masters Mickelson was in New York to do a number of guest appearances and his last stop was at the CNBC studio in New Jersey. It was a bright, crisp spring day and before Mickelson arrived Kernan was out front on a synthetic putting green the crew had assembled in hopes of having Mickelson re-create his winning 18-foot putt at Augusta.

When Mickelson walked up, Kernan said his stroke was sour, thought he was going to love the new putter he was using and wondered what Phil thought of it.

“Let’s see you hit a couple of putts,” said Mickelson, who then watched Kernan stab a few in the general direction of the cup.

“Hmm,” he said, “let’s see that thing.”

He took the putter and, right-handed, stroked a ball about 20 feet into the cup.

As the crew went nuts he handed the ball back to an astounded Kernan and, laughing, said, “Well, I guess the problem’s not the putter,”

Kernan cracked up, they went in, did the interview and have been good pals ever since.

For the record, Kernan had another putter in his hands Wednesday, this one anchored in his belly. That’s still not the problem, but Mickelson’s got his own, so there wasn’t a lot of laughing on the greens this time around.

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the 12th hole during the third round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 6, 2010 in Pacific Palisades, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 6, 2010) – Phil Mickelson said Friday night he knew where he was on the leaderboard, seven shots back when he started Saturday morning, and knew he had to go low to get back into serious contention at the Northern Trust Open.

Combined with Friday’s constant drizzle, overnight storms dumped three inches of rain on the course in 24 hours. That meant the field was playing lift, clean and place and firing at greens that were extremely receptive. All of that set up for a go-low day, and Mickelson responded quickly with a long eagle putt on No. 1 that got him to 6 under par for the tournament.

But that momentum was lost over the next three holes where Mickelson was forced to make good par saves after missing the second green, third fairway and fourth green and the third round turned into another one like the first one, when he shot 72.

“I hit a lot of good shots,” said Mickelson, whose Saturday 71 left him at 4-under, 10 shots back. “I just didn’t get anything out of it.”

It’s a cliché, but as you get triter you often get righter. Here’s what it means.

The birdie putt from 13 feet on No. 5 tricked away from the hole in the last three inches. The 6-foot birdie on the par-3 6th was in until it dove right at the very end. A 7-footer on 7 should have gone in, would have, on a day when he was getting anything out of a round. His approach on 9 hit the bank in the green and zipped back downslope 55 feet short; Friday it hit there and hopped to the back, which left him with a 53-foot putt back down to the front.

If those first three putts roll in Mickelson would have been 9-under, way up the board and loving life because he was being rewarded for hitting good shots and putts. It’s not to say the rest of the day would have gone differently or that he could have shot 63, as he did in the third round a year ago. It’s just to say he didn’t get anything, anything at all, out of the first nine except three very good par saves.

A difficult but poor pitch on 10 led to a bogey. An 8-foot putt went in for par on 11. A 10-footer lipped on 12, about the toughest hole on the course. A good shot to the par-3 16th left him with 13 feet of right to left bend and how that putt didn’t go in is still a mystery. In 18 holes he made two par putts and two bogey putts of less than an inch.

“It was one of those days,” said Mickelson. “one of those days when, looking back on it, I wouldn’t do anything different. Good putts would go in instead of break an inch or two in the last roll. But sometimes there’s just not much you can so about it, It’ll all even out.”

Not getting anything out of a round is discouraging for Mickelson but encouraging too. Bad, because an even par round was not what he needed to have any chance to catch Steve Sticker, who led last year’s tournament until he bogeyed 18 and Mickelson birdied 16 and 17 to win by one.

Good, because he really is hitting more fairways and making much better putts than he was for all but a handful of weeks in the last two years. If he wasn’t doing that, this round could have gone south in a hurry Saturday.

“I keep saying I’m not that far off and I mean it,” said Mickelson. “I’m going to go out tomorrow and try to light it up, have a really good round and build a little momentum for the year.”