LOS ANGELES (Feb. 4, 2010) – Thursday was a tough day at the office for Phil Mickelson. The theme was established early Thursday as Mickelson went in search of a record third-straight Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, .
His drive on the par-5 first hole landed on a sprinkler just off the left side of the fairway. He took a one-club drop into the fairway. Good omen. His approach from 178 yards stopped 17 feet behind the hole. Another good omen. And then his eagle try rolled around the right edge. Bad memory.
Sunday in San Diego he couldn’t buy a putt that broke into the hole instead off the edge. This would be another of those days.
There is a difference, though, between this year and last. In just two events he hasn’t regained the putting stroke tweaked by Dave Stockton last fall, the one that carried him to impressive season-ending wins at the Tour Championship in Atlanta and HSBC Champions outside Shanghai. But he is putting with a boldness that was missing for much of last year, the Northern Trust and Doral being the glaring exceptions in 2009 before he met with Stockton. No coincidence those were two of his wins.
At times last year, with his stance narrower and hands lower, he was tentative, and missed putts because of speed and line. His biggest miss last week came from across the 18th green one day when he ran the ball six feet past the cup, but he made that for birdie. As his putt on the first hole foretold, this would not be one of those good scoring days.
After a careless miss of a short putt on the on the fifth he was back to par and he stayed there with a right-rough, right-bunker approach to 4 feet for a save and then the tide turned. He drained a 25-foot birdie on 8, a 10-foot birdie on 10 after finding the front bunker and two-putted the par-5 11th.
“I was 3-under with a chance to make a couple more coming in,” he said afterward. At the end of play 3-under would have put him in a share of 10th place four shots off the lead.
But then he missed a 2-foot par putt on 12, his approach from a thin lie in the sand on 15 rolled 18 feet past and he missed that for par, his 55-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th stopped seven feet above the hole and he missed that, he got one back with an 8-footer on 17 but then yet again hit the hole, but not the bottom of it, from 7 feet on 18 for a final bogey.
I had it right there and I let it go,” said a clearly dispirited Mickelson. “It really wasn’t a good round.”
It was a 1-over par 72 on a course where his average score over the previous three years was 67 and it left him mired in a share of 83rd place.
He plays again with Adam Scott and Robert Allenby at 7:34 Friday morning after a very brief overnight at home in Rancho Santa Fe, a 30-minute flight from an airport near Riviera.
“We’ll have greens without footprints and a chance to get something going early,” he said, looking forward as usual to another day at the office, the next one a better one.