CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — For all 18 holes Saturday, the crowd at Hazeltine National cheered Phil Mickelson, hoping to will him out of a weeklong funk at the PGA Championship.
“We can do this, Phil!”
“Let’s go, Lefty!”
No matter how loudly they shouted and how hard they tried, Mickelson’s putter just wouldn’t listen. He shot 4-over 76 and dropped to 8 over for the tournament, rendering Sunday’s final round meaningless for the world’s second-ranked player
Mickelson hasn’t been able to get his stroke back after leaving the tour to tend to his wife and mother, both of whom were diagnosed with breast cancer during this emotionally draining summer. He returned last week to play the Bridgestone Invitational, his first tournament since the U.S. Open in June.
The rust has been too difficult to shake.
After missing three putts within 8 feet on the back nine and chunking chips from the bunker on Nos. 10 and 15, Mickelson was asked again if his family’s trials away from the golf course were affecting his play.
“Possibly,” Mickelson said, with hesitation. “I think the biggest issue for me is I’ve got to get this putter straightened out.”
Mickelson started the day at 4 over, which had been just good enough to get him into the weekend. He bogeyed three straight holes around the turn, including a miserable three-putt on No. 11, as his score swelled to 9 over.
“I’ve got to get confident on the greens,” Mickelson said. “I’ve got to start seeing the lines better, get my speed better, get the ball rolling better. Because if you put the ball in the hole, everything falls into place.”
He managed a birdie on 14 after his tee shot landed against the grandstand overlooking the green, then parred out from there to cap another long day at Hazeltine. With Tiger Woods dominating the rest of the field, all Lefty can do is use Sunday for some tuneup work.
“It’s frustrating for me to not be in contention on the weekends of a major,” Mickelson said. “That’s the toughest thing, but also good motivation for me to work harder.”
His 224 is the second-highest 54-hole score in 17 career PGA Championships. The 2005 winner, Mickelson shot 226 in 2003 and missed the cut in 1995.
When he walked off the course Friday, there was plenty of doubt as to whether he would even be here for the weekend. After his second straight 74, Mickelson spent a few hours working with swing coach Butch Harmon on his putting stroke – never a good sign heading into the third day of a major championship.
The results may not have shown it, but Mickelson said Saturday he’s starting to feel better.
“I feel like I, at least, have good direction,” he said, “but it’s going to take some time and some practice to get it down.”
What the immediate future holds for one of golf’s most popular players is unclear. He’s committed to playing in New Jersey later this month, a decision affirmed by the “Barclays” insignia on the chest of his white golf shirt.
After that, who knows?
“My expectations are high. I’m disappointed with my performance this week,” Mickelson said. “Regardless of what’s going on on or off the course, I still have high expectations.”
It’s been clear all week that the fans are willing to be sympathetic as he works his way back. A group of four young men wore bright pink shirts – matching the ribbon on Mickelson’s hat to raise awareness for breast cancer – with big white letters that spelled out P-H-I-L.
Even an ugly worm burner out of the sand on No. 15 wasn’t enough to deter the legion of Lefty lovers.
“Phil, you’re still my hero, baby!”
Mickelson turned and nodded as he walked up the fairway, then proceeded to sink a makable putt for one of the first times all week.
“I feel like I’m getting on the right track, at least,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get it figured out here over the next week.”