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Phil Mickelson goes back to the putting basics

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THE TOUR Championship by Coke 2007 LogoATLANTA – Phil Mickelson says he is putting better than he has over the last two years, which he attributes to spending time last week in San Diego with Dave Stockton, the former PGA champion renowned for his putting tips.

Stockton worked with Annika Sorenstam in the years before she retired. He also spent some time with Michelle Wie in the weeks leading to the Solheim Cup, where the Hawaii teen made more big putts in one week than she had all year.

Stockton was at Torrey Pines last week for an LPGA event, and Mickelson hooked up with him.

“He basically reaffirmed the way I’ve always liked to putt, and I’ve gone right back to it,” Mickelson said Friday after a 67 put him only five shots out of the lead at the Tour Championship. “It just feels terrific.”

Mickelson said he and Stockton share the same putting principles, in which the hands are pressed forward ahead of the club and the stance is slightly wider.

“I’ve gone right back to it, and it just seems to feel more natural, much more comfortable,” Mickelson said. “I’ve been rolling the ball great and making a lot of putts.”

He did not say how his work with Stockton will affect Dave Pelz, who has been Mickelson’s short-game coach. Lefty made no secret that putting has been holding him back over the last two years, with the occasional good tournament.

“Now I feel like I’ve got the right track, the right direction that I want,” Mickelson said. “And I’ll continue to spend more time with him as need be.”

TIGER & PADDY: Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington first played together in the third round of the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, an experience for Harrington as he tried to deal with so many photographers moving to get into position.

Harrington is used to it now, as he should be. It seems as though they have been playing together every week.

They will be the final pairing Saturday at East Lake, the ninth time this year Woods and Harrington have been in the same group, and the fifth time since the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational.

Woods has posted the score every time except the second round at Bay Hill, when he had a 69 and Harrington shot 68.

“I think it’s always best to be playing and watching the No. 1 guy,” Harrington said. “It’s always nice to be trying to push him. The key for me is to make sure I push Tiger to be a better play. That’s got to be the key when you’re out there.

“I’ve enjoyed most of the rounds we’ve played over the last couple of weeks. The way to do it is play your own game, but I’ve been quite comfortable out there.”

The most memorable pairing came in the final round at Firestone, when Harrington had a three-shot lead and ended up four shots behind Woods, courtesy of a triple bogey on the 16th hole when they were put on the clock.

Just don’t get the idea Harrington is intimidated by him.

“When you’re out there on the golf course, he’s just another guy,” Harrington said. “You can’t put him up on a pedestal like that. It wouldn’t help in that sense.”

CRANK UP THE NOISE: Padraig Harrington doesn’t mind the large and loud crowds that come from playing with Tiger Woods. He finds that far easier than a sparse crowd, in which he can more easily notice spectators moving or talking.

And that got Harrington to thinking.

He doesn’t follow basketball religiously, but he remains perplexed by the home fans scream and wave their arms when the opponent is on the free throw line.

“If everybody kept quiet, it would put the guy under a lot of pressure,” Harrington said. “And if you got one guy down to make noise, it would really put him off. Some college has got to start that. Everybody goes quiet, and then … you don’t even need anybody to make noise. There’s a lot more pressure than when everybody is waving those and cheering.”

BERMUDA GRASS: Tiger Woods grew up on poa annua greens in California, where he learned to sweep the putter up at the ball to get it rolling. It’s a similar style to Mark O’Meara and Scott Simpson, good putters in their prime who grew up in California.

Bermuda used to give him fits, and even after a 68 on Friday, Woods had some issues. He was missing putts on the high side of the hole when the grain didn’t take the ball. He missed his 4-foot eagle putt when he couldn’t figure if the grain was more significant than the slope, and on another short miss, he said the grain grabbed his ball to the left.

That’s one of the advantage of living in Florida the last 10 years, which has Bermuda greens on the golf courses. As a kid, Woods said he did not see Bermuda greens until a junior tournament in Arkansas when he was 13.

“One of the reasons why I moved to Florida—not only for taxes,” he said with a big grin, “but also it was a bonus to learn how to putt on Bermuda grass, because I never did.”

He has done all right on Bermuda, winning on courses like Doral, Kapalua and Disney.