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Saturday, September 18, 2004
Mickelson: 'I was awful'

By Bob Harig
Special to ESPN.com

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- It would have been easy to think that Phil Mickelson didn't care much about the Ryder Cup. The evidence was certainly not in his favor.

He changed equipment on the eve of the matches, didn't practice with his teammates, then played some of his worst golf of the year during Friday's opening day.

It wasn't the kind of performance expected of the re-made Mickelson, who won his first major championship in April at the Masters.

Phil Mickelson
Mickelson was reduced to the role of cheerleader Saturday morning.

But Mickelson did his best to put those thoughts to rest on Saturday. When he could have pouted after being bench for the morning foursomes matches -- or maybe even lashed out at U.S. captain Hal Sutton, who called him out for his performance -- Mickelson chose the role of cheerleader.

He was out on the course, rooting on his teammates, smiling to the gallery, and taking what could have been a volatile situation quite well.

And he said the right things about Sutton's failed experiment that had put him with Tiger Woods for two matches on Friday, both of which ended with tough losses to the Europeans.

"I didn't sleep, had a brutal night," Mickelson admitted. "Captain Hal put faith in Tiger and myself to play well. I looked at pictures of my swing [Friday] on the course and I just looked tight. All year, I've been trying to stay more relaxed and [Friday] I was tighter than I'd played all year. I played awful."

At least Mickelson admitted it. At least he acknowledged his shortcomings. And perhaps that fact that he was tight says something about how much the Ryder Cup does mean to him. Why be nervous if you're not concerned about the outcome?

Let's face it -- we'd rather see a guy succumb to nerves than to not be bothered at all.

Mickelson simply didn't send off the proper vibes.

The equipment change at this point of the season was bound to cause trouble if he played poorly. Such a move should have been made in the offseason, when Mickelson would have plenty of time to work out the alterations that are bound to be necessary. It was simply too easy to make an issue of it, especially when you saw Mickelson's tee shot sail some 40 yards left of the target at the crucial 18th hole on Friday afternoon.

And when he didn't practice with his teammates on the days prior to the Ryder Cup, it opened the door to more criticism, much heaped on him by Sutton on Friday night.

"Phil didn't play very well,'' Sutton said bluntly when asked why Mickelson was being held out of Saturday morning's fourball matches.

When asked about the equipment change and Mickelson's decision to practice on his own both Wednesday and Thursday, Sutton did not hold back.

"We'll all be left scratching our heads on that," Sutton said. "We'll all want answers to that. But the most important person that's going to have to wonder about that is going to be Phil Mickelson. It's not going to cause us any grief [this morning] because he's going to be cheering instead of playing."

He was cheering. And he did answer the questions.

"People are going to second guess me," Mickelson said. "I was playing well in practice rounds, hitting fairways, then I got out in the tournament and tightened up. The biggest ones I blocked left, otherwise I flipped it and hit a hook."

You could argue that Mickelson is too good of a player, regardless, to have been sat down on Saturday morning. Chad Campbell and Davis Love were not playing well, either. And when Campbell missed a big putt on the 18th green, costing the Americans a huge half-point, you wondered what might have happened had Mickelson been in the lineup.

Still, Sutton did perhaps what he should have done all along: paired Mickelson with Toms for the afternoon foursomes. Mickelson and Toms went 2-1-1 together two years ago at The Belfry and were the lone bright spot for the Americans on Saturday afternoon. They posted a 4 and 3 victory in foursomes over Thomas Levet and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

At least Mickelson was back with clubs in hand, rather than pom-poms.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.