Phil Mickelson has found a sweet spot in his swing and has opened a 2-shot lead in the Wells Fargo Championship. But it took him until the back nine to figure it out:
The first 27, 28 holes I have not driven the ball very well which is, most people would say, not surprising. 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.
After the 28th hole, after I played 10, I made a slight alignment adjustment and I was able to get it back to where I had been driving it. I was getting closed, and I had to hang back and flip it to get it online. [It wasn’t my shoulders, it was my] feet and body, it was just a fraction off. Opened up to get back square and I was able to rip at it.
I think if I drive it well this weekend, it’s going to be a fun weekend and I fully expect to. I’ve putted really well. It’s been fun.
He had that patented Mickelson grin on his face most of the day and he exuded confidence like he owned the place. On the drivable par-4 14th, he put it in the greenside bunker on the lake side of the green. The pin was 39 yards on, 48 total to the hole. In other words, way back there. And Phil hit the most amazing bunker shot to 5 feet and made it for birdie.
Mickelson is so good we almost take amazing shots from him for granted. But he surely does not which is why he’s so good. He brings to mind the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.”
What will be very interesting for the third round is that from his lofty perch in the pantheon of great players, he will be paired with a very witty journeyman from Australia, Scott Gardiner. He claimed to be as surprised as anybody at his good play and when he was asked why:
Have you seen my resume this year (laughing)? But, yeah, no, I just haven’t been putting it together. I’ve putted poorly all year, haven’t really saved any shots around the greens. I don’t know. My hitting and everything — I don’t know. It seems like it’s been getting better for a while, but the results have been similar. But it’s just nice to get a few birdies and save a few pars because when I’ve been giving myself opportunities, I haven’t been taking them. My short game has been poor, so it’s nice to see some improvement in those areas.
Having graduated to the Tour based on top-25 on last year’s Buy.com Tour, he’s had a tough year. He made $89,600 at Sony right out of the gate. But then he’s missed 9 of 12 cuts and the last 7 in a row. It’s been so long, it took him a while to figure just how long. Was it February?
It could be. I don’t know. I can’t remember. I remember it was probably — I made the two cuts in California. I made Pebble, yeah.
Yeah, yeah, I played well at Sony. I was in the second to last group and finished 15th. That was my first tournament as a PGA Tour player. I got a false impression (laughing). These guys are good. I’m not going to lie.
And this is interesting. He’s known as a trailblazer in Australia:
I’ve been very fortunate. My heritage is Aboriginal from my mom’s side, and I guess coming into turning professional I was afforded some scholarships through The National Aboriginal Sports Corporation of Australia, which sort of helped take me from a good amateur to starting a professional career.
It was a program — it was called “The Hunt For the Australian Tiger,” because I guess it was around 2000 and Tiger had just won The Masters and native Australians, Aboriginals, it had sort of become appealing because they saw Tiger. And they gave a lot of kids scholarships to work in the golf industry, not just to try to play great golf, but in offices to be an assistant pro or try to become a pro. It was a great leg up for me to chase my dream.
He lives in Arkansas with his wife and son and once again the stars were all aligned with help for him. But he saves the best for last:
Yeah, I’ve lived there since 2007. My wife was working there when I met her [while playing at the Buy.com Tour’s Fort Smith Classic]. I practiced out of the Blessings Golf Club. Mr.John Tyson, he owns the course and lets me play out there. That’s where the Razorbacks golf program practices. John Tyson, owner of Tyson chicken, he’s been very generous to me.
And what exactly did he expect coming into this week?
Gee, what did I expect? Agony (laughing). But if I won, that would be incredible. I just want to play two more good rounds. It’s going to be a thrill. I’m sure I’ll play with some great players in the next couple days [he didn’t know then that it was going to be in the last group with Phil]. I don’t know. I’m doing what I love doing, and to do it with some of the best players in the world, generally you have a great atmosphere when that happens. It gets your adrenaline going.
This is a guy who has patiently played eight years on the Buy.com Tour. Did he ever think about giving up?
No, I enjoyed every minute of it. I had a few close calls. I think I was in the top 30 three out of four years. But I took that as me playing well. 26th one year. The year I finished 26th I won a tournament, and I thought that was a step forward as opposed to I’d been deprived of something because that was all I knew. I didn’t know what was out here. Had it been somebody who had been out here, they might have felt they lost something. But I don’t know. I had won a tournament and 26th, that was the best year I had.
Right behind Mickelson and Gardiner will be Nick Watney and over seven years, two-time winner, George McNeill. Watney has everything in the world going for him. McNeill has less lofty goals that sort of align with his recent experience rather than with what he most wants to happen, win:
But just looking forward, I’m trying to get a little confidence and a little motivation and a little forward movement for the rest of the season. I think I’ve made nine out of ten cuts, but my best finish was 28th or something at the very first event. So it would be nice to kind of get maybe even top 25. I’d obviously like to finish better this week because I’m in position to, but really just moving forward and start stringing some better rounds together.
And behind the two of them are the good friends, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. Rory shot 1-under with 3 birdies. He had a little trouble with the changing green speeds:
It took me a while to get adjusted to the green speeds this morning. I felt like they were a lot quicker than they were last night.
I misjudged my first putt on 10. I had like a 15‑footer for birdie and hit it 10 feet past, so that was a nice little wake‑up call. Apart from that, I played well.
Westwood, on the other hand, in spite of a “chest infection,” was a birdie machine making six of them in shooting 4-under:
Yeah, I played solidly. Got off to a good start on the 10th, my first. Three‑putt from about 15 feet on 12 which was a bit unfortunate. I had a couple of different grasses to come over, but then just played really nicely for the rest of the round.
Hit it in the water twice at 7 [a par 5] and made a good 6, but other than that, it was solid all day.
So great viewing and compelling stories in just the first three groups. But there are a number of fan favorites still within shouting distance, especially with two rounds to go.
83 players made the cut, so the T69s will get a last positioning MDF round on Saturday and then be on their way. That will be very helpful to the remaining 68 players because there is the possibility of bad weather on Sunday and that will help them get it in.