Phil Has All the Looks of an Open Winner


Old notions are hard to shake sometimes. And so it is that the notion of Phil Mickelson playing chess with Shinnecock Hills somehow just does not compute.
But you might as well shelve the old notion of Flailin Phil now. He officially erased it with a Friday performance that was nothing short of phenomenal. He shot a 66 on a morning when he never was in trouble. Patiently he met each one of the 18 different challenges, and when it was all over, he toted it up and there it was ' a 66.
Mickelson wont confess that he was a loose cannon in years gone past. I dont know ' my credentials to judge such things are miniscule when compared to his. Other professional golfers have opined the same thing, however ' that Phil Mickelson hurt himself by never seeing a pin he didnt like.
Those people today have a decidedly different opinion.
Mickelson always has had awesome talent. But hes 34 years old now, been a pro for 13 years, and his ideas of the best way to jockey the ball into the hole have undoubtedly begun to change. He was almost cursed by being able to do so many things with the ball, and he too often tried to use his numerous skills instead of just concentrating on four or five things. Not surprising, he could always be counted on to have two or three holes when the myriad shots would fail, leaving him with just enough heartbreak to be fatal.
But this year has been different. He started the season by finishing in the top 10 in seven of his first eight tournaments. Then came the Masters on a course that is relatively open, and he won his first major with a brilliant back-nine 31 Sunday. Old buzzards started scratching their heads and nodding. It looked as if ' at least for that tournament ' that hed learned something about playing intelligently.
And now ' this. For 36 holes he has been the ultimate chess player as he teases, cajoles and then whips Shinnecock. He stands 6 under par and has hit 29 of 36 greens. He looks in total control, both of himself and his golf game. On Thursday that computed to a 2-under total of 68, and Phil gladly accepted that. On Friday it was 66, and again he accepted it with thanks.
This is the way you win U.S. Opens. First, it takes amazing talent. But secondly, you must be in complete control of your emotions. The over-the-head flop shot is truly unbelievable to all who have been privileged to see it. But a 15-foot two-putt, Mickelson is learning, is much more effective. And that is exactly what he has been doing in this tournament ' putting himself in position to make the birdie, but guaranteeing that he will do no worse than par. He has made only one bogey in 36 holes, by the way.
Mickelsons preparation for the majors now includes a lot more on-course preparation than before. Though he played at Westchester last week, he has gotten plenty of play time at Shinnecock. Some pros feel they play their best with just a round or two at the site under their belt. Phil, though, is solidly in the other camp.
I think you are going to perform the way you prepare, he said before the second round. And I think Ive put a lot of work and preparation for this event, coming here early, spending three days, four or five rounds and really understanding the golf course.
So then when I got here, I wasnt surprised by any situation where my ball ended up ' I knew if it was OK to be there or not. And its made for a good start.
Mickelson sounds like he has been winning these things for years. You cant attack the course, per se, because the pins are in such spots because half (the greens) are in X ' bogey at best, he was saying. And the other side, you can play from but its hard to get it four or five feet.
Above all, Phil has been very patient in just keeping the ball in the fairway and thus in play, and he has done that with 3-woods as well as drivers. Above all, he has done an excellent job of keeping the ball below the hole where his putts have not been blindingly quick. On the par-5 16th, for example, he hit the greenside bunker in two big whacks. From the bunker, through, he blasted it beautifully up to three feet.
However, it wasnt just three feet. Some places above that hole, three feet would be an extremely delicate touch as you tried to just nudge it in the hole. But Mickelson put it BELOW the cup where he could put a good stroke on it.
And meanwhile, Mickelson is still powering the ball 295 yards off the tee on the two measuring holes. This is just through the first two days, fair enough, but if he continues to muscle the ball when the opportunity presents itself, then throttles back the majority of the holes, and he will most assuredly by right around the lead come Sunday night.
Phil, in fact, just might agree that he has changed a little.
It certainly feels a lot better, he said. Its felt really good this year.
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