Phil Mickelson makes the lonely walk up to the eighth green as it became obvious, with only one hole left to play, that he would miss the cut for the third consecutive year.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Phil Mickelson signed for his best round of six he's played at the Greenbrier Classic on Friday, but wasn't in the mood to talk about it.The 41-time PGA Tour winner and sixth-ranked player in the world shot a 68 but needed to go three shots lower to stick around for the weekend. He flubbed plenty enough shots to miss the cut for the third year in a row.Mickelson signed for his score at the trailer behind the ninth hole, had a few words for reporters there, took the shuttle back to the clubhouse and disappeared. He declined his usual post-round interview.You would wonder if he wants anything to do with the Old White TPC - even the state of West Virginia - after finishing an aggregate 7 over in his six rounds. His comments about both were gracious, what you would expect from him.
"I think it's one of the best architecturally designed courses that we've played," he said. "I mean, I'm looking at every hole, studying it, learning from it. I thought the course setup was fabulous this year, I think it's a great track, a wonderful golf course and hotel experience."Playing with fellow lefties Bubba Watson and Ted Potter Jr., Mickelson ultimately threw away his weekend with that triple-bogey 17th hole on Thursday. But on Friday, his missteps on the front nine (which he played last) negated his 4-under 32 on the back.He had the rally going, too. He birdied the par-3 15th, that par-5 17th and the par-3 18th to pull to even for the tournament. But he had to go to the traditionally tougher front nine to find some more birdies.What he found was trouble. On the shortened second hole (455 yards), he hit the fairway with his drive but knocked his approach left of the hole, 48 feet away in what can be best described as a whirlpool on that green. That turned into a three-putt, as he left himself 9 feet for par.His hot-and-cold putting left him high and dry. On Thursday, he did so poorly that he lost three strokes to the field, according to that Byzantine strokes-gained-putting stat. On Friday, that stat improved to plus 1, but he still missed three of seven putts.By the fifth hole - his 14th - time was running out and he needed birdies. His 101-yard approach shot on the 388-yard par-4 hit near the hole, drawing a cheer from the gallery. But the cheers turned to groans as the ball rolled downhill to the front of the green, 371/2 feet away. Par.Mickelson did himself in on the sixth, when his drive failed to clear the bunker on the right side. He was in the bushy fescue just above the sand and did well just to get out of it. He pulled out one more big-time shot, dropping his short pitch to within 8 feet.But what did he do with the putt? Missed it, of course, falling to 2 over.He hit a 13-foot birdie putt on the seventh, but ran out of miracles when he overshot the green on the 242-yard eighth.That brought out another of his problems, one other visitors to Old White have discussed."I hit a lot of good shots and I think I've figured out why I've struggled here," Mickelson said. "It's my distance control with my irons and I haven't figured it out yet. We're a couple thousand feet [above sea level], so it's obviously going to go longer.
"I've posed over a lot of iron shots today and they end up not just a yard or two off from where I figure, but they're 10 or 12 yards from where I figure."I think as I look back on these last three years, that's been the biggest issue for me, distance control with the irons."Mickelson's departure leaves Louis Oosthuizen (10th) as the world's top-ranked player in the field and Billy Horschel (fifth) as the top-ranked player in the FedExCup standings. The tops in star power are the Watsons, Bubba and Tom.Bubba Watson scratched out a 69 Friday, putting him safely through at 3 under. He had 15 pars and two birdies, but wasn't close to satisfied. His putting wasn't great, excepting his 12-footer on No. 15 and an 11-footer on No. 5, both saving par."I'm not very good at reading, I guess," he said, referring to the tricky Old White greens. "I guess I'm illiterate. I just can't get the ball in the hole. I'm hitting the ball great, feel great, confident and everything. Right now, I'm hitting the ball really good and putting bad."He averaged 301.1 yards per drive, belting it 339 yards on the seventh.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.