LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After six months of listless play, Phil Mickelson strode to the 10th tee Thursday raring to go.
He was coming off a Sunday 62 at Firestone.
He had three productive days of practice.
And, oh yeah, he was grouped with Tiger Woods. That alone usually does the trick.
“I thought I was ready to let loose,” said Mickelson, believing for one of the few times this season that he was actually poised to compete and win … and instead, he pumped his opening tee shot at Valhalla so far left that it required a provisional.
“Horrific,” he said.
Lefty wound up making par, but his uneven start (2 over through 8) shook his confidence – and that has already been in short supply this season.
“When you are not in contention, when you haven’t won a tournament, when you haven’t played the way you expect to and you are not in the final group for a while, you get nervous, and that is exactly what happened,” he said. “I just made some unconfident swings.”
Mickelson rebounded with a birdie on the par-5 18th, and then came home in 32 to shoot 2-under 69 and sit just four shots off the early lead. Over his final nine holes he missed only one fairway and required just 12 putts.
It was the kind of assertive, confident, aggressive play that has been lacking this season, the chief reason his streak of Tour events without a top-10 finish is now stretched to 20.
He could use a few good rounds here at Valhalla, as Mickelson sits No. 10 on the Ryder Cup points list. Never has he required a captain’s pick to make the team, but with qualifying ending on Sunday, he needs to erase a 182-point deficit (or $91,000) to Zach Johnson.
“I finally believe that my game is to where I have been trying to get it,” he said. “Now that it’s there – granted I only have one tournament – I think I will get it done this week.”