Lefty’s putter leaves him in the lurch

Palmer at the 1965 Masters.
James Drake/SI

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — Phil Mickelson spent time in the rough and the sand, and one tee shot was so deep in the gallery he could have grabbed a snack from a corporate tent.

And that wasn’t the worst of his problems.

Mickelson shot a 2-over 74 at the PGA Championship on Thursday, a score that could have – should have – been far better if not for some horrible putting. He had at least a handful of good birdie looks he didn’t make.

“I haven’t putted this bad in a long time. You cannot win golf tournaments putting like that,” Mickelson said. “I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a long time, which is go to the practice green after a round and spend some time. I’ve got to get this figured out before tomorrow.”

He does if he wants to have any shot at Hazeltine National.

Tiger Woods was the leader at 5-under 67, with defending champion Padraig Harrington a stroke behind. But there wasn’t much movement by anyone else the first day, meaning there could be room for Mickelson to make a charge if he gets that putting straightened out.

Mickelson has played sparingly this summer, spending most of his time at home with his wife, Amy, and his mother, both of whom are being treated for breast cancer. He skipped the British Open, and his appearance at Bridgestone was his first since the U.S. Open.

Lefty has been tweaking his putting stroke, but he hasn’t quite gotten used to it yet. Some of his putts ran long, while others stopped short. And the greens weren’t to blame. Playing partner David Toms managed just fine on his way to a 3-under 69.

“I don’t feel like I’m playing as bad as I’ve been scoring,” Mickelson said. “If I don’t throw away those little 3-footers here and there, I’m a few under par. I didn’t make any 15-footers. Those were the key there. I had five, six, good looks at it, and didn’t make any of those.”

The encouraging thing is that if he does get it figured out, Mickelson knows he could be right back in the game. Though he hit some nasty looking tee shots, he was able to scramble out of trouble. Take his drive on 18. It hooked way right, landing behind a tree on the path between the ropes and the corporate tents.

The tree wasn’t obstructing his path, though, and Mickelson hit a gorgeous 9-iron that landed about 30 feet below the hole. Any other day, he probably makes that for birdie.

Not on this day.

“I feel like I hit decent shots, and the bad ones weren’t horrendous. So I wasn’t overly disappointed,” Mickelson said. “But when you miss putts, it’s hard to get momentum in the round.”

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