SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods withdrawing with injury.
Phil Mickelson three-putting his way to another missed cut.
Is this the new normal for 2015?
A day after Woods was whisked away in a golf cart because his glutes misfired, Mickelson won’t stick around for the weekend at his hometown event because of a deactivated putter.
No wonder the locals bemoaned the end of an era: It was the first time that both Tiger and Phil failed to play the weekend in consecutive starts.
Lefty stood on a podium after his round Friday looking and sounding broken. Having entered the season brimming with optimism, his confidence has been shattered by eight relatively listless rounds.
“You can’t compete out here putting the way I did,” he said. “It was one of my worst putting performances, and the first few weeks, really, have been the same way. You simply can’t compete at this level putting like that.”
In all there were five three-putts, the most of any player in the 156-man field and Mickelson’s career high through 36 holes in a non-major.
“I’m down,” he said. “I’m frustrated.”
And for good reason.
After torpedoing Tom Watson’s captaincy during an uncomfortable Ryder Cup news conference, Mickelson disappeared from view for nearly four months. The occasional report trickled out, about Phil’s diet and his fitness and his renewed power, but since making his debut at the Humana Challenge he has been plagued by the same inconsistency that led to the worst year of his career in 2014.
Following his trunk slam in Phoenix, this is the first time since 2002 that Mickelson has missed the cut in consecutive weeks on Tour.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball tee to green quite well, really well,” he said. “But if I can’t get back to the levels of 2013, I’m not sure what I’m going to do, because this is very frustrating.”
In the 30 Tour events since his surprising breakthrough at Muirfield, Mickelson has only a pair of top 10s and eight missed cuts or withdrawals. Last year he had a career-low one top 10 in 21 tries, his first winless season since ’03.
He was ranked outside the top 100 in total driving and ball-striking, but whatever gains he has made in those areas during the offseason have been negated by putting that he described as “beyond pathetic.”
“He’s very frustrated at the moment,” said Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s swing coach. “He feels like he’s played well enough to be in a pretty good position, and he’s done nothing with the putter. It was just horrendous how bad it was out there.”
Worse, Mickelson doesn’t appear any closer to a solution.
At the behest of short-game guru Dave Pelz, Mickelson began the year with a unique putting approach, using the claw grip for putts inside 10 feet and the conventional grip for those outside that range.
He abandoned the claw heading into Torrey Pines, but reverted back with a few holes remaining in his second round in a last-ditch effort to make the cut. It didn’t work, as Mickelson’s 74-72 left him three shots adrift.
Moving forward, he said he didn’t know which grip he would use.
“I don’t think that the claw is the long-term solution,” he said, “although I think it’s a good way to putt. But it’s not ultimately where I want to be.”
Whatever Mickelson is doing now isn’t working.
Through two rounds he needed a whopping 64 putts – including 33 in the opening round, when he lost 2.96 strokes to the field on the greens.
“If I had answers,” he said, “I would be out there putting better.”
Added Harmon: “He’s just in one of those funks that you get in and it gets in your head.”
Even Mickelson says that what likely began as a technical issue has morphed into something mental, as well.
Like anyone he has endured hot and cold spells during his career, but his putting was never a long-term concern. That’s not the case anymore, and for a player whose game is predicated on confidence, his mojo is now in short supply.
“I don’t think it will be a quick fix,” he said, “because if you putt bad for a few weeks, it’s going to take not only fundamental change, but it will take some good low rounds and some hot putting streaks to get the confidence back, too.”
Unlike Woods, whose problems are more widespread (health, driver, short game), Mickelson’s issue at least is more isolated.
Right now, that’s little consolation. For these aging warriors, the top of the leaderboard has never seemed further away.