A revived putter has Mickelson in the mix
AP Golf Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Phil Mickelson is starting to find his putting stroke at just the right time.
The evidence came not so much from the 5-under 67 he shot Friday at Bay Hill that put him into the thick of contention at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, rather a casual round earlier this week in the California desert.
Mickelson shot a 58, the lowest score of his life.
“How did you hear about that?” Mickelson said, unaware either that good news travels fast or that he had mentioned it moments earlier in an interview with British-based Sky Sport.
He made 12 birdies and an eagle at The Plantation Golf Club in Indio, Calif., which Fred Couples helped designed. Mickelson went there because the greens are similar to Bay Hill. “I ended up getting the putter going there, as well, and shot 58, yeah. That was fun.”
Friday at Bay Hill was as wild as it was fun, and not just for Mickelson, who hit two balls into the water and holed a wedge for eagle.
Davis Love III didn’t make a par until his 10th hole and still managed to stretch his lead to as many as four shots. He holed two more shots from off the green. And then he finished with back-to-back bogeys for a 71 to slip into a tie for the lead with Ben Curtis (67) and D.J. Trahan (68).
They were at 7-under 137 among the early starters, with former Masters champion Mike Weir among those playing in the afternoon.
Love will remember the 35-foot birdie putt on the 15th, holing out for birdie from a deep bunker in front of the 17th green and chipping in for birdie in front of the seventh green. The ball in the water at No. 8 or the short par putt he missed on the 14th? Forgotten.
“If you would have said Wednesday night whenever I was leaving the course, ‘You’ll be 7 under after two days and right at the top of the leaderboard,’ I’d have taken it,” Love said. “It’s right where you want to be. You want to be in the hunt.”
Love needs a victory at Bay Hill or next week in the Houston Open to get into the Masters.
Mickelson has not come close to winning all year, so it was inspiring for him to get to 6 under, along with Retief Goosen (67) and Kevin Na (70). His round, however, was far more complicated than making a bunch of putts.
It usually is with Mickelson, which is why Lefty could only laugh when asked if he found the day to be stressful or if that was just the way it usually is for him.
“I find that an interesting question because there’s some legitimacy to it,” Mickelson said. “I have a tendency to have up-and-down rounds like that. But it’s fun. I enjoy trying to create shots and hit shots and take on some of these pins and make birdies, and unfortunately, I tend to make a few mistakes at times.”
Starting on the back nine, he poured in three straight birdies from the 11th hole, then added a fourth the not-so-conventional way on the par-5 16th. Fans saw him lay up short of the water and hit a wedge that skipped up the big ridge and stop 3 feet away. Why lay up from inside 250 yards and get a clean look at the green?
“I fatted a hybrid,” he said, chunking the shot so badly that it worked out perfectly.
Indeed, putting saved his round, even if the biggest putts were for bogey. He drove into the water on No. 3 and had to make a 12-foot putt to limit the damage to a bogey, then drove into the water on the par-5 sixth and wound up making a 15-foot bogey putt.
“Those bogey putts were every bit as important as some of the other stuff,” Mickelson said.
The best of that other stuff came at No. 8, where Mickelson hit a wedge from 136 yards that landed short of the hole and dropped in for an eagle.
“You don’t expect that to happen,” he said. “You try to hit good shots and have birdie putts, but when one falls like that, it’s just a bonus.”
Love can relate. He now has holed four shots from off the green, which has compensated for some blunders.
He made six birdies on the back nine, where he started his round, only to kick himself over the three bogeys. Love did well to make bogey on No. 8 after hitting his approach into the water, although driving into a fairway bunker at No. 9 left him no hope of getting to the green, where he made his sixth bogey of the round.
Rarely does a player make six bogeys and stay in the lead.
“A little erratic,” Love said. “Made some pretty simple mistakes today that are a little more disappointing than yesterday’s mistakes, but again, I made a lot of nice putts, hit a lot of good shots, and obviously made a lot of birdies.”