DBC: Mickelson fires 63, credits his ballstriking

Phil Mickelson watches his approach shot from the fairway on the 18th hole during the third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston on September 4, 2011 in Norton, Massachusetts.

NORTON, Mass. – Be careful before you draw those natural conclusions. Day 3 of his belly-putter experiment did coincide with Phil Mickelson’s best score since April 2, but before you suggest “putting,” can you say “ball-striking”?

“One of the best I’ve had,” Mickelson said after tossing down a sizzling 8-under 63 at TPC Boston to liven up what had figured to be a quiet early third-round morning. Having made the cut on the number by making a birdie at his 36th hole, Mickelson was off in the fourth pairing when most fans were en route to the course.

But when he ran off three straight birdies early and turned in 3-under 33, Mickelson had a large throng following his every step. And as it usually is with the left-hander, the entertainment value was high. No more so than at the par-4 12th, which for two days had played as one of the hardest holes.

Missing the fairway left, Mickelson was in thick rough and from 173 yards he was just trying to hack a 7-iron onto the putting surface. “Obviously, it was a lucky shot,” Mickelson said after he recorded the 25th eagle thus far in the tournament, but just the third at No. 12 in the nine-year history of the Deutsche Bank Championship.

It’s hard to argue with Mickelson on that point, just as it’s easy to agree that the jury should still be out on the Odyssey belly-putter that he put into play this week. True, he needed just 27 putts, but on closer examination his birdies at the par-5 second (two putts from 16 feet), the par-3 third (2 feet), and the par-4 fourth (pitch from 35 feet to a foot at the drivable green) had nothing to do with a putting exhibition.

Nor did his birdies at the 10th (5 feet), 11th (10 feet), and 18th (two putts from 10 feet).

Instead, he was pleased to credit his ball-striking, an aspect of his game that suffered in the lead-in to this tournament, because the left-hander spent so much time working with the new belly-putter.

“Consequently, I didn’t hit very well the first two days,” Mickelson said. “But I talked to (swing coach) Butch (Harmon) last night, and we kind of sorted it out. It was just a slight adjustment because I’ve been striking it well. I came out today and hit it really well."

The stats support that notion, because Mickelson hit 11 fairways and 15 greens, a recipe that explains his charge up the leaderboard. Beginning the day joint 67th, Mickelson birdied No. 18 to reach 7 under and a tie for sixth.

He doesn’t figure to remain that high, not with TPC Boston yielding buckets of birdies and sub-par rounds, but Mickelson nonetheless was pleased with the vast improvement. He just wasn’t about to commit to the belly-putter, not even for Monday’s fourth round.

“Day-to-day,” Mickelson said.

“I’m needing some adjustment still with getting the speed down with the long putter and so forth, but it’s been an interesting trial.”

While he finds the straight putts to be no problem, those that have any sort of break in them have been an adventure. He said the putter is 400 grams heavier than what he’s used to, and the ball “comes off (the putter face) with a different speed.”

The more Mickelson spoke, the easier it was to determine that he was putting this 63 into perspective and not chalking it up to the belly putter. He concedes he was contemplating 59 after the eagle at 12 pushed him 7 under with six to play, but he missed a 15-footer at 13, a 13-footer at 15, a 35-footer at 16 and a 17-footer at 17. Then, after striping his second shot from 221 yards to 10 feet at the par-5 18th, Mickelson settled for a pedestrian two-putt birdie.

You wouldn’t be wrong to suggest he took a 60 and made it a 63, but that would be greedy. He’ll take the 63, but he won’t let the belly putter take any of the credit.

At least not until he gets on better terms with it.

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