Just a few days ago, Phil Mickelson was fed up. He was fed up with his short irons, fed up with not meeting expectations and fed up the above-par scores he was posting at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
The outlook was grim, and at an inopportune time considering this week’s PGA Championship and next month’s Ryder Cup, of which Mickelson is yet to ensure a position.
But after 10 birdies and a Sunday round of 62 at Firestone all seems well again in the Mickelson camp. One round was all it took.
“I was disappointed after the first few rounds because my expectations were that my game had turned the corner, and after the weekend I feel that it has,” Mickelson said while wearing a smile during his Tuesday press conference. “I feel a lot more confident in my game, and hopefully I can put together four good rounds instead of just two.”
That final round of the Bridgestone was enough for Mickelson to arrive at Valhalla for the PGA Championship as optimistic as he has been in a long time.
“It’s been awhile since I felt confident heading in, and I didn’t know I was going to feel this way after the first two rounds last week,” he said. “It’s a nice turn of events.”
That was the cheerful theme for Mickelson on Tuesday. Of the seven questions Mickelson answered about his game, every one of them referenced his boost in confidence or momentum stemming from that 62 Sunday. That’s how he plays golf, though. It’s a “streaky” quality he has learned to accept.
“I’ll get on rolls and get some good momentum and all of a sudden the hole looks like its huge, and then there are days where it’s just the opposite,” Mickelson said. “It’s just the way it’s always been for me.”
Interestingly enough, those “rolls” have worked for Mickelson in the past at Valhalla, where he has placed in the top 10 at each major held there. However, those finishes have always played witness to the Good Phil/Bad Phil narrative.
Mickelson held the 36-hole lead in the 1996 PGA Championship after a pair of 67s, but his Saturday score of 74 dropped him down the leaderboard, where he would finish T8. Mark Brooks won that year.
Four years later, at the 2000 PGA Championship, Mickelson was back in the running again. He was good enough to place T9 for the tournament, but just one round in the 60s kept him from really competing with lead dogs Bob May and Tiger Woods.
It’s a stage he has seen but yet to completely dominate. So in 2014, as he fields questions about playing with players half his age — players searching for their first major victory or their first win or their first top 10 — old man Mickelson is done searching. At Valhalla, at 44 years old, and following a 62 in his last round, he’s only concern now is building off his last showing.
“I don’t feel like I’m searching,” Mickelson said. “I feel like I’m just trying to now acquire that same feel from Sunday and I feel like I’ve found what I’m looking for. I just have to maintain it.”