Despite a round-ruining 9, Phil Mickelson finds reason for optimism at Safeway Open

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Despite a round-ruining 9, Phil Mickelson finds reason for optimism at Safeway Open

PGA Tour

Despite a round-ruining 9, Phil Mickelson finds reason for optimism at Safeway Open

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NAPA, Calif. – No one can spin a bad round and make it sound like he’s on the verge of finding the secret to golf like Phil Mickelson.

Thursday’s opening round was a perfect example. Mickelson is mired in a terrible slump that dates back almost to the moment he holed his winning putt at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. At the opening round of the Safeway Open, he recorded a round-ruining 9 on the par-5 fifth hole and signed for a 3-over 75.

That score was his highest 18-hole score in 15 rounds at the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort and Spa’s North Course. How bad was the nine, which included two shots out of bounds? Well, according to the PGA Tour, in more than 38,000 holes he has played on Tour, Mickelson has only posted three scores higher.

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But is Mickelson worried? Not in the least bit. To hear Mickelson tell it, his game was “only fractionally off,” and “a round like this isn’t getting me down because I can feel it start to turn.”

A few months ago, Mickelson looked deflated and lost after missing the cut at the Open Championship, his seventh missed cut in his last 10 stroke-play tournaments. He had no answers for his underwhelming golf.

“If it were a few months ago, I would let it get to me a lot more than I did today,” Mickelson said.

What’s changed is Mickelson’s attitude, confidence and energy level. He’s been on a diet and lost 25-30 pounds to the point that 40 pairs of pants he was fitted for at his heaviest no longer fit.

“I’m going to have to take them all in,” he said.

The Mickelson diet includes intermittent fasting (though he still drinks his special blend of coffee) and the weight loss means he’s less tired at the end of rounds and able to practice harder without getting worn out.

“All of these things lead to me being very optimistic about the upcoming year,” he said.

Mickelson also has made some swing changes. He’s been working on hitting a low-cut with his driver to try and keep the ball in play.

“It’s getting rid of the big miss,” he explained.

Not so much on Thursday – he hit only 3 of 14 fairways in the first round.

“Every lie in the rough was a jumper and so I couldn’t attack the pins the way I wanted to,” he said.

So, in Phil’s world a 75 in his first competitive round of the 2019-20 season is no reason to hit the panic button. He wants everyone to believe that he’s “close” and “the game is coming around.” As a matter of fact, he’s expecting to take advantage of fresh greens in the morning and go low.

“I’ll shoot 6-, 7-under-par tomorrow, I really believe that,” he said. “I believe the game is close enough to do that.”

He says all this so matter-of-factly that one can be easily swayed to believe it. He certainly does. And this is why it’s never dull to see what Phil will do next.

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