BRITISH OPEN GOLF: Mickelson bringing same optimism to Muirfield
GULLANE, Scotland — The pain of yet another excruciating loss at the U.S. Open has faded, replaced now by the euphoria of his first win in Europe in 20 years. Phil Mickelson’s summer has been a lot like his career, and the roller coaster shows no signs of slowing down.
He’s here with what he believes may be his best chance to win a British Open, though that’s nothing new. Mickelson always believes, even when the drives are going sideways and the 3-footers are lipping out.
But he won the Scottish Open on Sunday and that was a big boost for a player who hasn’t had much success on this side of the pond. And he did it in typical Mickelson fashion, winning in a playoff after blowing his first chance to win with a cringe-inducing three-putt on the final hole of regulation.
He’s not terribly worried about his game at the Muirfield links. Not with a new putting technique he prefers to keep secret — this is Phil Mickelson, of course — and a 3-wood he can control better than any driver.
What does worry him is his luck, important in any golf tournament but especially critical in links golf.
“It’s part of the tournament here,” Mickelson said. “You need an element of luck, but you also need to play some great golf. These last few months I’ve played well enough to get in contention and play well, but I do need some luck.”
On a course playing fast and hard, Mickelson put a little more money in his wallet Tuesday, pairing with Ricky Fowler to win a practice round match against Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka. The stakes were said to be substantial, and Mickelson ended the match by hitting a hybrid to the par-5 17th hole for a two-putt birdie.
If that was a good sign for Mickelson he wasn’t saying. But he clearly feels at the top of his game, and seems to have gotten over his disappointment of finishing second for the sixth time last month at the U.S. Open.
“I am really optimistic about this week and going forward because I’m starting to putt as well as I ever have,” Mickelson said. “I putted great last week, and more than that, I’ve been putting well now for months.”
The reason, Mickelson said, is something he figured out after several years of trying, among other things, a belly putter and some unusual grips with the flat stick. Though famous for tinkering with everything with his golf game, Mickelson prefers to keep his latest revelation to himself.
“I feel that I’ve kind of keyed in on something, and I don’t really want to share,” he said.
Mickelson’s lack of success in the British parallels his troubles at the U.S. Open except that he has rarely been in contention here. He finished tied for second two years ago after making a final round charge but for the most part he has struggled on the kind of courses that reward shots played closer to the ground and play much differently than the courses Mickelson normally plays on the PGA Tour.
Wind, hard ground, and deep bunkers are the trademarks of a links style course. And links courses like Royal Muirfield have given Mickelson fits over the years.
Just how he’ll feel about it on Sunday depends on whether he can find a way to not only win his first British Open but do it the week after he won another tournament. Mickelson accomplished the double before, winning the Bell South and then the Masters in 2006.
“It’s difficult to win the week before a major and then follow it up winning a major,” Mickelson said. “But, then again, the last person to do it, you’re looking at him.”
Uh, not exactly. Tiger Woods won the week before he won the PGA Championship in 2007, making him the last person to pull it off.
Forgive Mickelson if he’s a bit off on his golf history. Some of it might be easier to forget. So might all his runner-up finishes in the other Open he hasn’t been able to win.
No, his summers haven’t all been good.
Nothing that won’t change, though, if he’s the one holding the winner’s claret jug this time around.