SAN FRANCISCO – Sean O’Hair couldn’t help himself.
His match wasn’t over late Saturday afternoon at Harding Park, but O’Hair wrapped teammate Phil Mickelson tight in a hug on the 14th green.
This is where Mickelson rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt to halve the hole and keep the Americans in a tight Presidents Cup fourball match with Vijay Singh and Tim Clark. The Americans would go on to halve the match after being 2 down on the back nine. It was a satisfying finish for the Mickelson-O’Hair team after their 5-up rout of Retief Goosen and Camilo Villegas in morning foursomes.
The 1½ points Mickelson and O’Hair teamed to win helped the United States take a 12½-9 ½ lead going into Sunday singles.
Two weeks after winning the Tour Championship, Mickelson is showing off more than a rejuvenated game. He’s showing strange healing powers.
Call him Dr. Phil.
That’s been his important role this week. He’s been good for what ails American golf. Captain Fred Couples keeps sending Mickelson partners with afflictions and Mickelson keeps curing them.
Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker are proving juggernauts as partners this week, too, running their record together to 4-0. They’re the best combination the San Francisco Bay area’s seen since Joe Montana and Jerry Rice teamed up to win all those Super Bowls for the 49ers. Mickelson, though, has been just as impressive running his record to 3-0-1, particularly considering the struggling partners Couples keeps sending his way.
It started on Day 1, when Mickelson was paired with Anthony Kim, who sprayed it all over the place through their first 12 holes together in foursomes. Kim kept leaving Mickelson in tough spots and Mickelson kept finding escape routs until Kim caught fire at the end.
On Day 2, Mickelson was paired with Leonard, who was licking his wounds after missing a 3-foot putt at the end of the first day, a miss that gave a late jolt to the Internationals.
Day 3 found O’Hair limping into Mickelson’s presence, but they didn’t take long to mesh in foursomes. They were 5-under through 15 holes in their foursomes dominance of Goosen and Villegas.
“We just really worked well together,” Mickelson said.
O’Hair started the week as Michael Jordan’s special project. It couldn’t have been flattering, though, with Jordan more than intimating that O’Hair lacked confidence.
“He’s such a great player, and he presents doubt to himself,” Jordan said.
Jordan managed to take some money off O’Hair in a practice round, but he apparently didn’t give O'Hair much confidence in return. O’Hair didn’t just lose his first two matches of this Presidents Cup. He didn’t lead after a single hole with his first two partners in foursomes and fourball.
Mickelson did what Jordan couldn’t.
“Phil is just hitting it very long, very straight and he’s putting well,” O’Hair said. “It takes a lot of pressure off his playing partner. I felt like I could hit it anywhere, and I would be fine.”
With his wife, Amy, fighting breast cancer, Mickelson struggled much of the summer on the course. But he’s been on fire since teaming up three weeks ago with putting guru Dave Stockton, the two-time PGA Championship winner. Mickelson won the Tour Championship with a sizzling flat-stick the week after their short-game sessions.
It’s funny how a hot putter suddenly makes Mickelson such a good partner in these international team events. He arrived at Harding Park with a pedastrian 21-27-15 record in Presidents and Ryder cups.
If Mickelson can turn around his fortunes in international team competition, what about the majors?
Stockton is excited about the possibility of Mickelson adding to his three majors, of winning his first major since the 2006 Masters.
“I’m really pumped about next year,” Stockton said while watching Mickelson play Friday.
It isn’t just the possibilities Stockton sees in Mickelson’s putting stroke. It’s the whole package.
“Butch Harmon has Phil hitting it so great,” Stockton said. “When we worked together, Phil talked about how good he’s hitting it.”
And how Mickelson’s been frustrated not being able to take advantage of the chances Harmon has helped create.
Mickelson’s teammates see something special coming together.
“Phil is swinging it awesome right now,” Leonard said. “His short game is as good as ever. He’s got a lot of confidence in it. Any time he feels like he can make putts out here, he’s dangerous.”