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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.”

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  Phil Mickelson his tee shot on the 12th hole during the second round of the Northern Trust Open at Riveria Country Club on February 5, 2010 in Pacific Palisades, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 5, 2010) – If Phil Mickelson the Elder had any second thoughts when his alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. Friday they were allayed by the end of his soggy hike across Riviera Country Club nine hours later.

He had to get up that early to drive about 40 miles to the airport and catch a 30-minute flight with his son to L.A., Van Nuys, actually, because their usual airstrip in Santa Monica was closed. When they arrived at the course at about 6 they were greeted by the start of a shower that would last throughout the day and thoroughly soak the fans who turned up for the second round of the Northern Trust Open.

Phil the Younger’s spirits, buoyed by calls Thursday night to Butch Harmon and Dave Stockton, could not be dampened.

“I felt like I wasn’t far off after yesterday’s round, even though the score didn’t reflect it,” said Mickelson, who followed his 72 with a 6 under par 65. “I had good conversations with Butch and Dave last night, and I think it settled in today. I was able to make the last adjustment and it felt great. I hit the ball much better and putted much better.”

Even after a quick overnight turnaround, Mickelson looked like he was in midseason form, even if it was the rainy season in not-so-sunny California.

Starting on 10, Mickelson birdied 11 and 12 to get to 1-under. Bogeyed 13, birdied 14. Then caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay really went to work.

Mickelson’s drive on 15 looked like it was headed for the right fairway bunker. A half dozen people, including Phil the Elder, poked around in the sand – they found plugged four balls – and the thick kikuyu thatch just above the pit. With seconds to go before the official told them the allotted five minutes to search was up, Bones found the ball buried in the grass. Mickelson hit to just short of the green, then came one roll short of making a birdie chip-in. Without Bones’ find he would have had to struggle to make bogey.

After a birdie on 1, Mickelson banged a drive off the press tent located between the first and second holes. He made an impressive over-the-trees approach to just short of the green but bogeyed to drop to 2-under. His drive on 3 was again 30 yards right of the fairway, though he saved par. Then those adjustments finally “settled in”. He didn’t miss another fairway or green on his way to the house.

A pure 4-iron to 10 feet on the tough par-3 fourth hole brought another birdie. His approach on 5 caromed 25 feet backward off the flagstick; the uphill putt stopped one roll short of another birdie. Mickelson used the slope at the back of the sixth green to draw the ball back to five feet above the hole and he made that for birdie, 4-under.

He made another at 8 after an approach from 143 yards stopped eight feet left of the cup. And on nine, 53 feet above the hole, Mickelson put most of his back to the target and putted to the right side of the green, where it took a turn, broke about 20 feet left and narrowly missed the hole. He made the 5-foot par putt and moved from a share of 83rd into a share of 9th with the afternoon wave just getting started.

It was truly mid-season stuff, an impressively quick U-turn from last week’s season-opener in San Diego where he was “hitting it all over the place” and Thursday’s scratchy round.

“I’ll probably end up 15th to 20th after two rounds,” he said afterward, “but I’m in a position where with a good round tomorrow I can get in contention for Sunday, so that’s where I wanted to get myself.”

He also got himself a later tee time, which meant Phil Mickelson the Elder could sleep in a little bit longer on Saturday morning.

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the fourth 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. 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.

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 4: Phil Mickelson signs autographs outside the scoring area during the first round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 4, 2010 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 3, 2010) – Phil Mickelson prepped for his two-time title defense of the Northern Trust Open Tuesday with a round of golf with friends at another Los Angeles course. That night he attended a PGA Tour players meeting at Riviera Country Club.

It was a regularly scheduled event but the primary topic was the groove issue that has embroiled the Tour since last week. Mickelson was one of several players who put a Ping Eye 2 wedge in play. In his case it was to experiment with the club, but also to expose a loophole in the rules pertaining to golf clubs. That wedge is approved by the USGA and Tour despite not conforming to the current standards. In San Diego Scott McCarron called it, “cheating,” that the players who used the wedge “should be ashamed,” and that “Phil should be one of the guys stepping up and saying this is wrong.”

After being stabbed in the back last Thursday, Wednesday morning Mickelson buried the hatchet.

“Scott came up to me and sincerely apologized,” he said. “We all make mistakes and say things we wish we could take back. I’ve done it a bunch in my career. It’s also not easy to come up and face that person, look him in the eye and apologize. He did that and he was sincere. I appreciate him being a big enough man to do that.”

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said, “With respect to a particular player that used a particularly unfortunate choice of words . . . there is no justification . . . but the reaction was stronger than it could have been had we more intensely last year got in front of players with the details of this rule.”

While Mickelson was conciliatory toward McCarron, he underscored his contempt for the way the new standards have been implemented by the USGA and followed by the Tour, two of golf’s governing bodies.

“It’s killing the sport.” Mickelson said of the ambiguity he feels the USGA has allowed to exist. “It’s killing the manufacturers and the players. We don’t understand the rule and it needs to be changed.”

Finchem said that the Tour will begin to explore the process of disallowing use of the pre-1990 Ping clubs by use of a local rule. It is a cumbersome process that will not have anything resolved soon. But last week John Solheim, the president of Karsten Manufacturing, which makes Pings and came to the agreement with the bodies in the early ‘90s, said he would be open to discussion with the USGA and the Tour.

Mickelson is not using the offending wedge this week at Riviera.

“I like and respect these players,” said Mickelson, who lauded them for their show of support last year after Amy’s breast cancer announcement. “Out of respect for them I do not want to have and advantage whether it’s perceived or actual. My point has been made.”

But he also said, “If these governing bodies cannot get together to fix this loophole, if players stop using this wedge, which would stop the pressing of this issue, then I will relook at it and put the wedge back in play. I hope the governing bodies get forced into changing their rule-making process. I hope there’s more transparency among the governing bodies.”

And then he went out onto the range to warm up for his pro-am round and enjoy a sunny afternoon on a course where he’s won for the last two years.