CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Phil Mickelson stepped to the 16th tee during his Wednesday pro-am at the Wells Fargo Championship and noticed a few familiar faces. He exchanged quick pleasantries, but it was only seconds before he excitedly started extolling the virtues of his new and improved Phrankenwood driver, an updated version of the one he first used three weeks ago at the Masters. Let’s call it Son of Phrankenwood.
Big smile plastered across his face, the left-hander went into full infomercial mode. He talked about how he’s hitting it longer than any driver before. He talked about how he’s gotten rid of the little leak to the left that he had with the previous edition. He even talked right through his swing, as before his ball found the center of the fairway, he boasted, “Like a dream!”
As it turns out, Mickelson was perfectly right to show a little swagger when talking about one of his clubs. He just picked the wrong one.
Through two rounds here at Quail Hollow Club, Mickelson’s scores of 68-67 have afforded him a two-stroke lead, but Son of Phrankenwood can’t take much of the credit, as he’s found only 11 of 28 fairways so far.
Instead, it’s his unnamed putter that is carrying the load.
How proficient has he been with the flat stick? The numbers are eye-popping. Mickelson is 31 for 31 on putts inside 10 feet. He leads the tournament in putting average, one-putt percentage and total putts. And it’s all the more impressive on patchy greens that look borrowed from the nearest muni.
Not that it’s bothering him at all.
“I think that the greens are putting very, very good, obviously, because I've putted them well,” Mickelson said with his famous Cheshire cat grin, fully aware of player complaints about the putting surfaces. “But with them being slower, we're able to putt them aggressively. We're able to take some of the break out without fear of racing it way by. And I've made a concerted effort to leave uphill putts, which has allowed me to putt even more aggressive and play even less break, and that's made a big difference in my putting.”
Perhaps he owns the right strategy to attack these greens. Or maybe he simply has the right attitude. Whatever the case, his putting exhibition wasn’t lost on his playing partners over the opening two rounds.
“He’s made some nice putts,” Rickie Fowler said. “When he happens to miss the green, he gets it up and down or finds a way to get out of trouble. He’s pretty good at scrambling. He’s staying away from bogeys and he’s making those putts.”
“Yesterday he probably used a little of his Phil magic on a couple shots, but today was really clean,” added Nick Watney. “He'll be tough on the weekend.”
Ask any player, after any round, whether their score could have been a few strokes better – whether they “left a few out there” – and the answer is almost universally affirmative. It should serve as a testament to Mickelson’s putting that following his second-round 67 he concluded that it was the best possible score he could have posted.
“Honestly, not really, no,” he determined. “I mean, I made a lot of putts that they weren't gimmes. They were 15 feet. I made a long one on 9. I got a lot out of the round today. I have to drive it better to be more aggressive to shoot lower this weekend, because I'm getting as much out of the round as I can.”
Just 48 hours removed from speaking glowingly about his “dream” of a driver, Mickelson hasn’t lost any confidence in the club despite its failure to live up to expectations.
In fact, after the second round he almost sounded more confident in his overall game, knowing that if Son of Phrankenwood returns and he continues putting like this, it could be a lethal combination.
“Before I came here, I was driving the ball phenomenal. I really am excited about the way I've been hitting it off the tee and I'm looking forward to this weekend,” Mickelson explained. “I think if I drive it well this weekend, it's going to be a fun weekend.”