He had stubbed all 10 toes and jammed all 10 fingers. He had coughed up the U.S. Open at Winged Foot with an instantly infamous double bogey on the 72d hole to miss a playoff by one shot. A simple par would have won his national championship.
Then Mickelson wandered, with no significant result, through the rest of the season until he got to the Ryder Cup where he played all five matches and managed to contribute just half a point to the badly-beaten American side.
And that was that. Mickelson retreated. He didnt play, officially, again until this weeks Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
As usual, the rumor mill was working overtime. The most delicious among them was that Mickelson had lost 50 pounds during his hiatus.
Lefty Hefty No More. The headline writers had their knives out and were poised.
Fortunately for Phil, a cooler head prevailed. And that head was his.
He showed up at a Tuesday press conference this week saying he had, indeed, been reshaping his body through diet and exercise. He had lost 20-25 pounds, he said, and then gained back 10 to 15 pounds of muscle.
To be sure, Phil looked Phitter. But not sphelvte.
I had two immediate questions:
Would a differently-shaped body change his swing? And had Phil been in better physical shape late Sunday at Winged Foot would he have made better mental decisions in the heat of battle.
Mickelson answered them. Sort of.
My performance at the Ryder Cup was every bit as disappointing as my finish at the U.S. Open, Mickelson began. .I feel like the Ryder Cup performance was more'as opposed to a game problem'more of a physical problem.I dont feel as though I stood up physically throughout the nine months and to playing 36 holes a day. And I needed to address that.
Specifically, Mickelson has been doing 45-90 minutes of cardio regularly with trainer Sean Cochran. They also have continued to work on core conditioning.
Im hoping that this will improve stamina so that the latter part of the year I have a better performance, Mickelson said. I dont expect to see much (improvement) in the start of the year because I usually play well in the start of the year. I expect to see the improvement the latter part of the year. Im hoping to continue or sustain that level of play throughout the whole year now.
Mickelsons got the right idea. His body hasnt visibly changed the way David Duvals did when Duval went on a fitness kick in the late 90s. And his swing doesnt look noticeably different.
In his first round of the season, played Wednesday, Mickelson birdied his first hole at La Quinta and then promptly made two straight bogeys followed by a double bogey followed by two straight birdies. It was as if Phil The Thrill had never gone too far away.
By the end of Wednesday his total was 70. He posted that same number in Thursdays second round of this 90-hole marathon. There was more of the same Friday'two birdies, a bogey and an eagle in his first eight holes, and then he traded a birdie for a bogey on the back nine..
So many people have wanted to write Mickelson off since Winged Foot. My take is that he wont go easily in the good night. I will be surprised if he doesnt play well again in April at Augusta National where he has finished first, 10th, first, third, third, third, T7 and T6, respectively, in his last eight Masters starts.
And lets not forget that the PGA Championship he won in 2005. That was the last major of that year, played during the period of the season in which hes now concerned about conserving his energy.
Dealing with failure is part of the game, Mickelson said Tuesday. I deal with it 90 per cent of the time.
Bottom line: Willpower and discipline will factor largely into whether Mickelson will come all the way back from that final round at Winged Foot after which he called himself an idiot.
There is golf genius in Mickelsons bones. And genius is a strong word. There are only two male players alive (and under the age of 45) to whom I would attach that adjective. And we know who the other one is.
Dont think he wont be watching Mickelson this year along with all the rest of us.
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