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.”