FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Phil Mickelson gave his adoring fans a shot to remember Saturday in the U.S. Open – a remarkable hybrid that none of the Bethpage Black regulars would even think to try, let alone have the club to play it.
From 164 yards in rough left of the 15th fairway, he opened the face of the hybrid as if playing a wedge and launched a high shot – the crowd cheering as the ball took flight, trying to help it to the elevated green – that stopped 25 feet from the hole.
“This is a special club I actually made, taking the back part of the hybrid out so that I can open it way up and get through that thick rough,” Mickelson said.
He was 1 under – seven strokes behind leader Ricky Barnes – after rounds of 69 and 70 and a nifty par save on the first hole in third round before rain stopped play.
Unsure he would even play the event after learning wife Amy has breast cancer, Lefty missed the birdie putt on 15, walking away with his second par on the 459-yard par 4 – the hole where Tiger Woods made a 6 Friday and bogeyed from the fairway Saturday.
“The way the left side kind of cuts in, it’s just awkward to my eye,” Mickelson said. “I have a tendency to miss it left there. The lie wasn’t great. It was in the thick rough, but it wasn’t horrible. Short, it’s terrible there. And with those pins just on that top section, it’s very difficult to get up and down.
“I thought I could get a 5-iron out of that rough up by the green. And I was concerned that it might come out a little dead and be short. I took the hybrid and dug in after it and was able to get it there. I actually was trying to play over the green and get it past, but it came out dead and turned out perfect.”
Mickelson returned to the soggy course early Saturday to complete the final eight holes of his second round. He was even par in rain-free conditions, dropping a stroke on the par-5 13th for the second straight day and getting back to red numbers with his second birdie on the par-3 17th.
On No. 1 in the third round, he drove in the deep left rough, hacked out to the fairway, pitched 25 feet past the hole and made the par putt. He drove in the left rough No. 2 before hard rain washed out play for the rest of the day.
“I like the position I’m in,” Mickelson said after the second round. “I think that if I can get hot with the putter, I like my chances in the next two rounds.”
And there will be two more rounds, no matter the weather, however long it takes.
“It’s nice knowing from a player’s standpoint, because it allows you to play a certain way,” said Mickelson, never worse than fourth in four previous U.S. Opens in New York. “I wasn’t out there pressing today forcing birdies, thinking this might be 54 holes. Knowing that it’s 72 is helpful.”
While the rain has made the greens receptive, Mickelson figured the Bethpage layout has lost only a little of its bite.
“I wouldn’t say it hasn’t shown its teeth,” Mickelson said. “This is a very difficult golf course. It’s long. The rough is very difficult, and just a very few yards off the fairways in spots is literally lose your ball or unplayable lie. … Ernie Els, one of the best players in the game, was 15 over. It’s not easy.”
That was evident on the 605-yard 13th, where Mickelson’s drive embedded in grass on the bank of a bunker, forcing him to take a penalty stroke for an unplayable lie. He called for a ruling, but PGA Tour official Mark Dusbabek – called in by Mickelson for a second opinion – determined the ball didn’t break the surface of the ground.
“I don’t disagree with the ruling. I understand the rule,” Mickelson said. “But I still wanted to get it double-checked.”
He didn’t need to check twice to know he got a break from the weather that plagued Woods and the other half of the draw.
“We had a great end of the draw,” Mickelson said.