A 'fraction' off at Pebble, Mickelson looks revitalized at NTO
Phil Mickelson has had a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde existence the last two weeks. It started at Phoenix with a first-round 60 that included a lip-out for the elusive 59 before he ultimately cruised to a four-shot victory over Brandt Snedeker.
It was one of Mickelson’s best performances in his PGA Tour career, making him a favorite at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2012.
The trip up to the Monterey coast didn’t go well, and Mickelson played just good enough to make the cut and finished T-60, one of his worst performances at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in his career.
The two days at Pebble Beach were highlighted with four balls in the water at the par-5 18th hole: two on Saturday and two more on Sunday.
After Saturday’s third round, Mickelson said he was off and would need to spend some time to work on his game, but would not confirm he would see or speak with instructor Butch Harmon.
Three days after leaving Pebble Beach in bewilderment, Mickelson looked like a new man in the Wednesday pro-am. He hit crisp iron shots, but more importantly smashed solid tee shots with all clubs, except for a wayward 5-wood, which Mickelson was trying for the first time in the current configuration.
Playing his fifth consecutive event and wanting to get the most out of this week, Mickelson is not looking for any clubs to misbehave – notably the new 5-wood – before he takes a two-week hiatus from the Tour.
“Every shot thereafter I hit it very well, but because it's the first shot you ever hit with it, it kind of sticks in your head,” Mickelson said of the 5-wood. “I'm going to take a week or two before I say it's going to be in for a while. I've got to continue to hit good shots, because that first shot is like the one that sticks in your mind.”
Mickelson did confirm that he spoke with Harmon earlier this week - coming to the conclusion that he was really just a fraction off with his swing at Pebble Beach, leading to some crazy shots.
“Because you don't go from striping it and hitting it the way I did in Phoenix to hitting the ball the way I did at Pebble and have it be a huge thing,” Mickelson said. “You're not going to get in that bad of a habit. It was a fraction off.”
Mickelson spent Monday and Tuesday addressing that fraction, plus adding new clubs to his bag.
The new driver was in the bag last week, but Mickelson finally has settled on putting the new Callaway 3-wood in the bag and likely will wait a couple of weeks before committing to the 5-wood.
Mickelson played with the new Versa putter in the first round three weeks ago at San Diego, but the black-and-white putter didn’t make it into the bag at Phoenix or Pebble Beach, but is back this week at Riviera.
“Visually I like the Versa better,” Mickelson said after making four birdies in his pro-am round. “When I went to Phoenix, (putting instructor Dave) Stockton wanted me to get a little bit more forward press – not a lot, not like I used to, but a little bit – so my top hand can lead. I didn't have a Versa with enough loft, so I went to one that had more loft. I ended up winning, so I didn't want to switch last week. But I came back home, I got it to be the same specs as the one I won with, and now that has a little bit more loft, I can get my top hand just ahead a little bit.”
Mickelson’s new driver and 3-wood performed almost exactly as he hoped Wednesday. He hit eight fairways, and on the first he hit a 3-wood through the fairway before making birdie from the rough.
Mickelson controlled his irons well from the fairway and the rough, hitting eight greens in regulation, but when he missed the green it was generally on the fringe, with two exceptions.
“I think this is going to be a great thing for me because the greens here are small, and with good weather, they are going to be firm,” Mickelson said. “And that means to hit the greens, you're going to have to fly the ball high and soft. You don't have the luxury of landing the ball short here with the Kikuyu grass. It will stay short. “
With a wry smile and a look of mischievousness, Mickelson sounded like a player who knows exactly the result before the event starts, not someone who doubted his ability to win.
“I'm really optimistic about the week,” Mickelson said. “It should be good.”
After 18 holes of Wednesday’s pro-am, the Mickelson of Phoenix seems more likely to show up this week than the one who struggled a week later at Pebble Beach.