Phil Mickelson had made all 31 of his putts inside of 10 feet this week. (Ehrmann/Getty Images)
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If Phil Mickelson goes on to win the Wells Fargo Championship, the adjustment he made to his alignment in the middle of the round on Friday may prove to be pivotal in what would be his 42nd PGA TOUR victory.
As he prepared to come to Quail Hollow, where he has six top-10 finishes in nine starts, including runner-up to Rory McIlroy in 2010, Mickelson said he was driving the ball "as long and as straight as I ever had." He felt like he started overswinging, though, hence the need to tweak things a tad.
"I was getting closed, and I had to hang back and flip it to get it online," Mickelson explained. "... It was just a fraction off. Opened up to get back square and I was able to rip at it."
The result? Mickelson hit three of his next six fairways -- which at first glance might not seem like much of a difference. But considering he'd only hit of eight of the preceeding 22, the number was significant, as was the confidence he gained.
"The first 27, 28 holes I have not driven the ball very well which is, most people would say, not surprising," Mickelson said. "But 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's putter has been extremely cooperative, too. He made a 14-footer for birdie at the first hole on Friday, then added a 15-footer at No. 2 and the tone for the day was set. He finished with a 67 that tied for the low round of the tournament and left him with a two-stroke lead at 9 under.
Mickelson leads the field in Strokes-Gained Putting and is also tied for first in distance of putts made. He has not missed a putt inside 10 feet in 31 attempts. The longest putt Mickelson has made is the 39-footer he drained at the ninth hole on Friday -- interestingly, his longest in the first round came at the same hole from 19 feet.
Mickelson said the greens, which suffered during an unusually long and unseasonably cold winter, are slower than normal this week so he has been able to be more aggressive.
"We're able to take some of the break out without fear of racing it way by," he reported. "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."
At the same time, Mickelson didn't feel he left anything on the course.
"I made a lot of putts that they weren't gimmes," Mickelson said. "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."
That's where the alignment change he made comes in so handy.
"I feel excited about the weekend because I know I'm going to drive it well this weekend," Mickelson said. "I know that I've been hitting it well, even though I haven't shown you the first 28 holes. And everything else feels pretty good, short game, chipping, putting, irons feel pretty good."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Phil Mickelson, who has six top-10s in nine starts at the Wells Fargo Championship, including a runner-up finish in 2010, positioned himself for the stretch run with a 67 during Friday's second round at Quail Hollow.
Mickelson opened a two-stroke lead with the round of 5 under that matches the low of the tournament. PGA TOUR rookie Scott Gardiner also shot 67 and he is tied with George McNeill and Nick Watney, who played with Mickelson in the first two rounds, for second at 7 under.
McNeill moved up the leaderboard with a 68 on Friday while Watney had a 70.
Rory McIlroy, who won the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship and lost in a playoff last year, heads the group at 6 under that also includes Lee Westwood, Jason Kokrak, Derek Ernst and Rod Pampling, who was the last man in the field after Ben Crane withdrew Wednesday afternoon. Westwood had the best round of the bunch, shooting 68, while Pampling shot 69, Kokrak a 70 and McIlory and Ernst has 71s.
The cut was made a 2 over and included 84 players. Among those making early exits are Martin Laird, who won the Valero Texas Open earlier this year; former Masters champ Bubba Watson and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Phil Mickelson generally doesn't touch a club the first week after a major championship. When he does get back on the range, he's looking to regain he feel he needs to maneuver shots around the course and his touch around the green.
Sometimes, Mickelson, who finished a disappointing 54th at the Masters two weeks ago, finds himself fighting to find his game again. But there are other times when it happens fairly seamlessly -- like it did on Thursday when Mickelson shot a 68 during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
"When I picked up a club a week ago and started playing, I was playing really well," he said. "... I wasn't trying to fix anything. I was just kind of swinging the club, and I ended up playing well at home and it kind of carried over into this week."
Mickelson's round of 68 on a Quail Hollow course where he's posted six top-10 finishes in nine starts left him one shot off the lead when he finished shortly after noon on a drizzly Thursday. He actually was tied for the lead until he bogeyed No. 8, his 17th of the day, after hitting his drive next to a tree trunk.
Mickelson hit another errant drive well right at the ninth hole. But he hit his second shot low and under the trees, finding the fairway where a well-played wedge left the big lefthander with a 20-footer he made to save par.
"I got just a little bit tired, I think, because I quit on a couple of those swings and pull hooked two drives on 8 and 9 and put myself in binds," Mickelson said. "I was unfortunate on 8 to be right behind the trunk. If I had been a few inches either way I probably would have been fine getting it on the green. But it was a bad drive that put me there."
Mickelson, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year, didn't hit a lot of fairways, six to be exact, and just 10 greens in regulation. But his putter was extremely obedient and as he stayed in the mix on an unseasonably chilly day with just 25 strokes on the greens.
"Early in the morning when it was a little colder and there was a little drizzle and wind, it was difficult," Mickelson said. "As that went away, the scores got a lot easier. This is a great golf course in that there are some really good, easy birdie holes, and there are some really hard pars. ...
"Fortunately, when it was tough conditions, I played the harder holes and I was able to make pars and had the opportunity on the easy holes to make birdies. But this is a great mixture of holes here."
Mickelson's best finish at Quail Hollow was runner-up to the red-hot Rory McIlroy in 2010 when the Northern Irishman closed with a sizzling 62. He's finished fifth or better four times.
"I really like this golf course," Mickelson said. "I think from tee to green it's one of the best I've ever seen. ... I've had some good finishes, but you're right. I haven't been able to break through and get a W. This year, hopefully, it will be different because I am playing well and I do really enjoy it here."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Phil Mickelson, who has finished 12th or better seven times in nine appearances at Quail Hollow, is one shot off Boo Weekley's lead at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Weekley, who tied for sixth last week in New Orleans, is 4 under through 15 holes while Mickelson has played 12. Also at 3 under are Charlotte resident Robert Karlsson, Nick Watney, Ryan Moore, Jordan Spieth and Derek Ernst.
Mickelson's best finish at Quail Hollow is second in 2010. He had his eye on the big silver trophy that Sunday until Rory McIlroy closed with a 62 and ended up winning by four.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson was at a loss to explain his performance at the 2013 Masters.
The man who has won three of the last 10 Masters only broke par once at Augusta National this week. And he followed that 71 on Thursday with rounds of 76, 77 and 73 to finish at 9 over.
"I just had an off year," Mickelson said. "I don't know what to tell you. I played poorly. ... This is my favorite place to be, my favorite tournament, and one I look forward to the day after it ends. And to perform like this is disappointing. I'm disappointed in myself because I expect a lot more of myself, out of my game and so forth this week."
The last time Mickelson failed to finish 72 holes in red numbers at the Masters was in 2007 when he shot 11 over and tied for 24th. That also happens to be the last time he didn't play the week before the Masters, as was the case this year when his normal stop, the Shell Houston Open, was moved up in the PGA TOUR schedule.
"I've got to look at that because the things I did this week to get ready I just wasn't as mentally sharp as I need to be, and I've got to find another way to get ready for big events if I'm not able to compete the week before," Mickelson said.
The big left-hander said he and his instructor Butch Harmon may have identified some things to work on during their practice session on Sunday, though. With the Wells Fargo Championship and THE PLAYERS Championship looming back-to-back in two weeks, such clarity couldn't happen a moment too soon.
"I had some technical issues or fundamental issues with my swing, and I've had it the last couple months, but I believe I have the direction now to work on it, so I'll spend some time in two weekends and see if I can get it ironed out for a good run at Charlotte and THE PLAYERS," Mickelson said.
Phil Mickelson shoots 77 on Saturday at Augusta National.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson has always been a glass half-full kind of guy, and Saturday was no exception.
After firing a 77 that included consecutive double bogeys on the back nine, Mickelson described his play in the first three rounds alternately as "beyond terrible" and "heartbreaking." The three-time Masters champ sits at 8 over and has made bogey or worse on 16 of the 54 holes he's played this week.
So what's the positive he takes from the last three days?
"It is a beautiful day here, and you cannot get a more majestic day here at the Masters," Mickelson said. "... Where else would you rather be than Augusta National with this kind of weather on a weekend? It's just spectacular, and certainly I wish I played better, but it sure is fun being here."
Mickelson said he's "disappointed" in his performance at the one tournament "I look forward to more than anything." He's relatively happy with the way he's putting but his ball-striking has been mediocre, at best -- particularly with his irons.
"I just don't know where it's going to go," said Mickelson, whose play has been decidedly inconsistent since he picked up his 41st victory earlier this year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The consecutive doubles came as Mickelson made his way through the Amen Corner at Nos. 11 and 12.
"I'm 4 over for the tournament, so it's not like I'm right in the thick of it and had a heartbreaking shot that went in the water and cost me the tournament," Mickelson said. "I just hit a couple of terrible shots.
"But that's kind of the way it is out here. What I love about Augusta National is when you play well you can score really well, like Nick Watney did the back nine, shot a bunch under par, and if you play the way I did you shoot quite a few over. That really gives the players who are playing well a chance to separate themselves and identifies the best player."
Watney, for the record, made birdie on the 11th hole, then played Nos. 13-16 in 5 under, including an eagle at the 15th hole. He said Mickelson was't the "Phil we're used to seeing" but Watney was impressed by the way he continued to grind.
"We have all been there, unfortunately, and it was a bit of a lesson for me just because you know he's out of sorts, but he was still swinging pretty confidently, definitely wasn't guiding it out there, which I tend to do when I'm playing poorly," Watney said. "So I think it says a lot that he grinded and made the cut. I'm sure he'll be back very soon."
Instead of contending once again, though, Mickelson is languishing at the bottom of the leaderboard, one shot ahead of the 14-year-old amateur from China, Guan Tianlang -- who is eight months older than Mickelson's eldest daughter Amanda. Mickelson and Guan could be paired together on SUnday for the final round.
"That would be cool," Mickelson said. "I saw him earlier here last week as we were getting ready for the tournament. What a classy person he is. He's got a great game. I hope that happens. ... I wish we were a lot lower score, but hopefully we'll have a chance to do it."
Phil Mickelson shot 40 on the back nine on Friday.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA,, Ga. -- Augusta National giveth and it taketh away. We all know that, and Phil Mickelson was the most recent example after two completely opposite tours of the final nine holes on the Alister Mackenzie masterpiece.
The three-time Masters champion had taken advantage of the memorable stretch on Thursday, coming home in 33 to get into red numbers at 1 under. On Friday, though, Mickelson made three bogeys and one double on the way to a 40 and a disappointing round of 76.
"I made a lot of mistakes today," the popular lefthander said. "I made a lot of poor mistakes that I just can't do around here."
One of the biggest came at the 10th hole as he hit a gap wedge to the back pin on the 460-yard par 4. The ball landed in a greenside bunker, though, and Mickelson turned a "pretty easy" shot out of the sand into a 15 foot par putt that he missed.
"So I don't know what happened there, but it threw me and it carried over to the next shot, because I hit an awful shot at 10," said Mickelson, who made another bogey there.
An errant 9-iron at the 12th hole produced the lone double bogey. He followed with a birdie at the par-5 12th but dropped shots on the next two holes and the tide was completely turned.
"I was disappointed," Mickelson said. "After I doubled 12, I came back with a birdie. I think I was only 1 over for the Tournament at the time. So I could have gotten right back to even or 1 under coming in. And I had a good drive on 14, I hit a gap wedge again short and ... I made bogey."
Mickelson's cumulative score of 3 over leaves the World Golf Hall of Famer with considerable ground to make up if he is going to have a chance on Sunday. But he knows that Augusta National, perhaps more than any other course, offers opportunities when you least expect them.
"You're never out of this tournament," Mickelson said. "You just never know what's going to happen.
"I've got a little bit of work to do, it doesn't feel far off. My putter is very close. I've hit a lot of good putts that have not gone in that have come very close the first two days. If I can get a couple to fall and hit a few more good shots, I think that I have something in the mid 60s, which I will need tomorrow to get back in it".
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The first round of the Masters always provides plenty of entertainment and storylines, and Thursday was no exception.
Whether it was 53-year-old Fred Couples turning back the clock (again), or 14-year-old Tianlang Guan shooting 73, or Sergio Garcia grabbing a share of the lead at a place where a year ago he said he didn't have it in him to win a major, there was a lot to soak up.
Friday, however, is more serious with players positioning for the weekend. With that in mind, here are a few groups to keep an eye on in the morning wave.
Tianlang Guan, Ben Crenshaw, Matteo Manassero, 9:06 a.m.: "Very, very impressive" is how Crenshaw described the teenager's performance in the opening round. A former phenom himself, that's not hyperbole from the former Masters champ. Guan had the best score of the six amateurs in the field and now has a chance to make it to the weekend.
Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, 9:39 a.m.: Garcia shot 66 in the opening round, matching his career low here, and recorded his first bogey-free round here since 2002. It's the first time he's led after any round of the Masters; now the question is can he keep it going? He's 1-for-9 in his career in converting first-round leads into wins on the PGA TOUR.
Dustin Johnson, Fred Couples, Branden Grace, 9:50 a.m.: Johnson said Thursday that Augusta National suits his eye. It looked like it. He shot 67 and is one off the lead entering the second round. The key for him: Putting. Johnson took just 26 putts in the first round. Meanwhile, for all of Couples' success here, Thursday was just the fifth time he's cracked 70 in the opening round. That bodes well for him the rest of week -- he has 11 career top 10s here and in each of the last three years has finished in the top 15. He always feels ageless here and fed off Johnson, a sort of younger version of himself. There's no reason to think he can't again.
Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, 10:23 a.m.: Mickelson admitted to being too "tentative" in his opening-round 71. Translation: With a wet and soft golf course, and 33 players breaking par in the opening round, Mickelson is going to be very aggressive on Friday.
Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Freddie Jacobson, 10:34 a.m.: McIlroy's opening round was a mess, but he held it together well enough to shoot even par. He'll have to clean up his putting, however, if he's going to get in contention for the weekend. Ditto Bradley, who had 30 putts and an up-and-down day but managed to scrape out a couple of birdies on his way to a 73.