Mickelson Quietly Begins Climb


That guy quietly lurking in the background bears watching this week. Philip Alfred Mickelson has played three times and racked up three top-10s. Is he, perchance, ready to break out?
Mickelson has made a few enemies with his decisions on places to play the past year or so. But you have to give him his props ' he knows what he is doing on the golf course. Mickelson opened his year by finishing in a tie for fifth at the Hope, followed that with a tie for eighth at San Diego, and last week tied for seventh at Phoenix.
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson hopes his putting will come around this week at Pebble Beach.
Mickelson won last year at Phoenix, as well as the next week at Pebble Beach. This week the tour swings oceanside to Pebble, and Mickelson is sidling up to that trophy already. Remember, he has had these boffo starts to the season several times in his career. He might tail off a little toward mid-season, but the beginning of the year he has nearly always come out smoking.
Mickelson, of course, took an unusually long vacation to wind up last season. With the exception of the odd tournament or playing appearance, he shut er down in October last year after Vegas and didnt start up again until the Hope in mid-January. Thats roughly three months of loafing. Mickelson is a bona fide family man now with a wife and three kids, but three months is quite an extended absence for anyone nowadays.
Everyone had him pegged for the No. 1 threat to Tiger until about the middle of May last year. He had just finished in the top 10 seven times in eight events, including the two victories. But for a couple of months he had a devil of a time hitting it straight and didnt threaten again until mid-August when he won a biggie, the PGA Championship. He then slipped back into his old habit of missing fairways and greens through the end of the year.
So, naturally, he was generally forgotten when this year began. But remember ' its the beginning of a new season, and its Mickelsons time of year. His putter has been sour a few rounds, but he has tagged the ball beautifully. Of course, the spotty greens at Pebble Beach mean that hardly anyone ever has a great week putting. So maybe thats another good omen for Phil.
I don't feel very good on the greens right now, he said. I really haven't felt comfortable, haven't made too many putts. I've got to work on that. I've been trying to take a little extra time before each round, but it hasn't quite settled in yet, and I don't anticipate that it will next week at AT&T with the greens not being that great.
I feel like the putting just isn't there yet.
Mickelson says that, at the age of 35, he finally has become a golfer. The last two years correspond to the time he began working in earnest with Rick Smith and Dave Pelz.
I felt like I made the biggest strides in the last two years as far as consistency and level of play, he said. The ability to contend in the majors has been a big factor the last two years.
And the putting, he feels certain, will come around. And he hopes it comes around this week.
I started to key in on a couple of things where I started the ball on line (in Phoenix), Phil said, and thats going to be important at Pebble.
Its a tough tournament, though, to play well because there are a lot of factors that you cant control. You cant control how the ball bounces on the greens, you cant control some of the weather conditions, some of the pace of play issues. You just have to kind of accept it and hope you get some breaks.
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