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."