If there’s a golfer who has something to prove next year, it’s your old enigmatic pal Phil Mickelson, the No. 2—sorry, No. 3 ranked player in the world. With Sergio Garcia’s rapid ascent up the rankings, Padraig Harrington’s assault on the majors, and the deification of Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan at the Ryder Cup, the ever-extraordinary Mickelson suddenly looks quite ordinary.
Further chinking his moisture-wicking armor, Phil hasn’t won a major in 11 tries, after winning three of six; he’s been winless since Tiger Woods took sabbatical; and he had us all a little on edge by threatening to follow the Road to Dubai.
None of this is good. The PGA Tour wants Mickelson in top form. So do the fans. And so does Tiger. Imagine the Road Runner with no Coyote. Mickelson blames his flatstick. “I felt like this year I actually struck the ball quite well in every major, but I did not putt anywhere near as well,” he said today during a conference call to promote next week’s LG Skins Game. “So I’ve been addressing that. Fortunately, the last four or five events I've played in, I’ve putted very well.”
Mickelson finished eighth at the HSBC Champions tournament earlier this month in China and tied for ninth at the Singapore Open last week. But top 10s have come easily this year; winning hasn’t.
“Pelz and I spent some time before the Ryder Cup trying to get my putting sharp,” Mickelson said. “We spent a lot of time on the Callaway putting cameras and studio. We think we identified an area that needed to be fixed. And I’ve been working on that. I had a good putting week at the Ryder Cup and my best putting week the following week in the Tour Championship.” Mickelson, as usual, didn’t reveal specifically what he and Pelz are keying on.
Despite his putting woes, Lefty will be a favorite at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, which returns to Bethpage Black. Mickelson finished second at the first Bethpage Open in 2002—one of the “coolest events” he’s played, he said today. His prospects at the British Open (Turnberry) and PGA (Hazeltine) are less clear, particularly with Tiger Woods back in the mix. Not that Phil sounds fearful of Woods’s return.
“I miss him as a player. I miss him as a person. I miss trying to track him down,” Mickelson said of Woods. Touching stuff, but did Lefty also miss a golden opportunity by failing to bag a major in Woods’s absence? “Certainly Padraig Harrington took advantage of the opportunity and won a couple of majors,” Mickelson said. “That’s what I was hoping to do.”
Still, Mickelson remains as unperturbed as ever. “Now that I’m getting this putting worked out," he said, "I think '09's going to be a great year."