Mickelson Impresses with Pitching Prowess

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- Confident as ever, Phil Mickelson dropped down three $100 bills and dared anyone to beat him.
 
Only this time, he wasn't on the golf course.
 
He was on the mound.
 
Mickelson faced six players from the Akron Aeros, the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, after batting practice Wednesday afternoon.
 
He offered $300 to the first guy to hit one out of the park, and stuffed the money back in his pocket after throwing about 100 pitches.
 
'I'm proud to say no one was able to take me yard,' said Lefty, who does everything from the right side except play golf.
 
One of the Aeros hit one to the warning track, but most were grounders.
 
'They were swinging, they just couldn't hit it out,' Aeros manager Brad Komminsk said. 'He mixed it up. He threw all kinds of pitches - fastball, curveball, a little cutter, he had a splitter. And he wasn't telling them what was coming.'
 
Mickelson often plays catch with his caddie, Jim Mackay, before playing tournaments. But his pitching prowess took practice.
 
He said he has worked a couple of times with pitching coach Tom House.
 
His favorite pitch? The splitter.
 
'I take the spin off,' he said. 'It goes in like a knuckleball and dips at the end.'
 
Mickelson said he would love a chance to face major league players, although that probably won't happen anytime soon.
 
'My velocity is not what it needs to be,' he said. 'Maybe I'll spend a few days in Arizona for spring training. Yesterday was really a kick.'
 
His golf wasn't awful. Mickelson made four birdies in a round of 68 at the NEC Invitational, leaving him four strokes out of the lead.
 
PGA CHAMPION
 
Shaun Micheel tried to play like the PGA champion on Thursday, but instead had to settle for a 1-over 71.
 
'It was a tough day,' Micheel said. 'I thought I had it all figured out. I was trying to keep up with what I did last week.'
 
He didn't hit his approach into two inches on the final hole. He didn't have a gallery that lined every fairway. He didn't even get introduced as the PGA champion.
 
At the World Golf Championships, players are merely introduced by name and country.
 
The good news?
 
'I was just happy he didn't ask me to pronounce my last name,' said Micheel (pronounced Mick-HEEL).
 
It already has been a wild three days for Micheel, who beat Chad Campbell by two shots last week at Oak Hill.
 
He flew home to Memphis on Monday, tried to return as many phone calls as possible, went to a Kiss concert in Columbus on Tuesday, and was so swamped with media requests that he got in only nine holes of practice.
 
He already has found his expectations to be higher.
 
'I found myself a lot of times saying that I need to hit this shot for the people to prove I wasn't just lucky,' Micheel said. 'With what happened last week, it was really hard to maintain my focus.'
 
CADDIE SWAP
 
Sergio Garcia decided to mix it up this week, not by changing any of the clubs in his bag. He swapped out caddies.
 
Garcia's caddie, Glenn Murray, is working this week for Retief Goosen, while Goosen's caddie, Greg Hearman, is working for Garcia.
 
'Glenn, Greg, Retief and me, we have a good relationship, so we talked about it for a while,' Garcia said. 'Sometimes it's good to switch off from your usual caddie for a week and get some new thoughts in. I think it freshens the relationship.'
 
How did it work out?
 
'I guess it wasn't too bad,' Garcia said after his 64. 'What do you think?'
 
It worked OK for Goosen, too. He had a 67.
 
WESTWOOD WOES
 
Lee Westwood, who has dropped out of the top 200 after being ranked as high as No. 4 in the world, at times wonders how much worse it can get.
 
Plenty, if Thursday was any indication.
 
The Englishman was tied for the early lead at 4 under when his drive plugged into the lip of the bunker. Once he got around the green, he whiffed out of the deep rough, and wound up with a triple bogey.
 
He bogeyed the last for an even-par 70.
 
Asked about his bad breaks at the 17th, Westwood snapped.
 
'Can I do the interview?' he said. 'I'm going to ask you a question. Can you give me anything to be optimistic about after that? I'm getting (upset) with it now.'
 
DIVOTS: Phil Tataurangi of New Zealand withdrew because of neck problems. That left Len Mattiace to play by himself in the final pairing of the round. Rocco Mediate (78) will tee off alone at 8 AM Friday. ... Nick Faldo is playing in his first World Golf Championship since the inaugural one in 1999, the Match Play Championship, where he lost to Tiger Woods in the first round. Faldo opened with a 74. ... Woods now has shot in the 60s in 18 of 21 rounds at Firestone.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from the WGC-NEC Invitational
  • Full Coverage - WGC-NEC Invitational
     
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