PINEHURST, N.C. – Starting 13 shots off the lead (and seven out of second), Phil Mickelson was a man who needed to make a move on Saturday. But as he progressed through his round, it was clear there would not be too many birdie opportunities at Pinehurst No. 2.
“I kept waiting,” Mickelson said. “Well, I can’t get to this one, I’ll get to maybe the next hole … can’t get to this one, I’ll get to the next hole. Finally, we got to the 18th and I’m like, I can get to the pin. It’s going to be an interesting day. It’s going to be an interesting round. I don’t see anybody shooting under par today. It could happen, but it’s very unlikely.”
A six-time runner-up at the U.S. Open, Mickelson said he finally felt as if he’d solved some of the issues that have hampered his putting. Saturday, his irons weren’t good enough to shoot any better than 72. But the improved putting, at least, was a bright spot.
“I’m always tinkering, making adjustments,” he said. “And I’ve been having trouble getting the putter to go to the target. It’s been kind of a short follow-through. So I had the shaft aimed a little straighter, a little more forward lean, or forward press. I took some of that out so the shaft was a little more vertical. The putter head went to the target a little bit easier. But I actually hit it pretty good today. I hit a lot of good putts.”
In Round 3, Mickelson would make only one birdie (at No. 7, where he drove just short of the green), but he did have his best putting day, needing only 28 putts after requiring 65 in his first two rounds. Having yet to post a top 10 this season, Mickelson said it’s all about taking baby steps, and the next natural progression would be a solid round on Sunday.
“If I hit it better and make some putts, I think I can shoot 4 or 5 under par, end around even,” he said, adding with a smile, “(and) finish second again.”