ATLANTA (AP) — Phil Mickelson spent part of last week working with putting specialist and former PGA champion Dave Stockton, and he got off to a reasonable start Thursday in the Tour Championship.
His only mistake was a big one. Mickelson took a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 14th hole and wound up with a 73.
More disturbing than the snowman on his scorecard was that Mickelson had only 123 yards to the green from the middle of the fairway. He pulled it into the bunker, then blasted it over the green. His four shot went across the green and back into the bunker, and from there it took him two shots to get out. Then came two putts and an 8, and that was that.
Mickelson was in good spirits when he finished. He declined a brief interview with reporters, looking at them and saying with a smile, “You guys don’t need me, do you? I’m in last place.”
No one minded, and Mickelson headed to the railing and signed autographs.
STAYING ACTIVE: Sean O’Hair had played five of six weeks through the BMW Championship, grinding his way to a pair of top 10s in the last two events to climb up to the No. 7 seed going into the Tour Championship.
Most players were thankful for the one-week break in the FedEx Cup playoffs. O’Hair apparently was not one of them.
“I played six days in a row,” he said.
This was far different from playoff golf, however. O’Hair called up his buddies near his home outside Philadelphia and they played every day around town – his home course of Aronomink, Kennett Country Club and Concord Club, where his wife grew up playing.
“It was a good week off,” he said. “Just played with my buddies, and we just had a good time. Did a lot of gambling and lost a lot of money. I lost a lot of money last week, but that’s OK.”
O’Hair said he didn’t play particularly well, which explains the losses. Plus, he gave his friends too many shots.
“They were winning bets on the first tee,” he said with a grin. “The one that hurt me was I gave a 1-handicap – a good buddy of mine, who used to be a really good player – six shots. And he schooled me. I think he actually tied me at Aronomink. He tied me straight up. So I lost a lot of money that day.”
O’Hair said he wanted to stay active in golf, and this was not much pressure.
“I didn’t go out and beat balls, I didn’t go out on the putting green and putt,” he said. “Really, I got in my car, threw my clubs on the cart and away we went. That was about it. It was a good time.”
As for those losses? He didn’t give an amount, only that he still has won more he has lost to them. And before anyone feels sorry for him, O’Hair already has made nearly $3.8 million this year, with a chance to win substantially more at East Lake.
CONFIDENCE AND COMPLACENCY: Ask a simple question and expect to get anything but that from Padraig Harrington.
He had gone in the tank all year while searching for a technical swing key. Once he figured it out, he went back to scoring and has been contending just about every week. Someone asked about his confidence level.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played golf with confidence,” Harrington said, a peculiar answer from a three-time major champion. “I’d love to see the day I did.”
He then gave a clear example from Cog Hill why confidence is not his thing.
“I birdied the first hole in the final round, and I hit a beautiful 6-iron into the second hole, and the wind gusted and it came up short in the bunker,” Harrington said. “And I walked off the tee, and I said, ‘Never mind, I’m going to get this up-and-down, it’s OK.’ I felt good about it, felt very comfortable, and of course, I overplayed the bunker shot 4 feet short, missed the putt.
“Next hole, 7-iron, similar shot, coming out of the rough, spun a bit low, comes out of the bunker, no problem, I’ll get it up-and-down,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s the end of that. In the future, every time I hit a bad shot, I’m going to walk up to it saying, ‘How am I going to get this up-and-down? I’m never going to get this up-and-down.’ The confidence just doesn’t work for me.”
Harrington said he has been that way for years. Put him on the beach, and he couldn’t hit it into the ocean. Put him on a tight hole with out-of-bounds on both sides of the fairway, and he’ll split the middle.
“I just struggle when I get a bit complacent,” he said. “I’m a strange fish. I work better with fear than I do with confidence.”
DIVOTS: In second place is a trio of players who have won the last five British Opens – Stewart Cink (2009), Padraig Harrington (2007, 2008) and Tiger Woods (2005, 2006). Go one step down to find Lucas Glover, which means the four players behind leader Sean O’Hair have won five of the last eight majors. … History doesn’t favor Sean O’Hair. Only two players who led after the opening round at East Lake have gone on to win the Tour Championship – Vijay Singh in 2002 and Bart Bryant in 2005. … David Toms was the only player who failed to make a birdie in the opening round. He shot a 74.