Phil Mickelson gets smart in Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson is an idiot.

Hey, don't shoot the messenger: That's his word, not mine.

He used it to describe himself after an opening-round 68 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, in reference to his head-scratching decision to switch drivers prior to the round.

"Well, like an idiot, I switched drivers, and today I hit a few shots that I haven't hit," he said Thursday.

Poor guy. I mean, wouldn't we all like to be the kind of idiot who shoots 68 with the wrong club in the bag?

But if there's anything Mickelson enjoys more than posting low scores, it's proving himself right. And so one day later, he did just that. He switched drivers once again -- going back to his original selection -- and played Monterey Peninsula CC three strokes better than he fared at Spyglass Hill in the first round.

All of which should leave us more than a little confused at our final conclusion.

He's either an idiot for originally changing drivers or he's brilliant for having the foresight to change back.

"I drove it great," he said, beaming after a Friday round that included an eagle and six birdies against just two bogeys.

When asked to explain the difference between the two drivers, Mickelson just smiled.

"One goes straight and one goes the other way," he deadpanned. "The reason it goes straighter is the increased spin. So I was trying to pick up a few extra yards by having a lower spin. When I hit it great, it goes perfect. But my misses will be a little bit bigger, and [they were]. Today, with a little bit more spin, I hit it a lot straighter."

The only problem? This time, it was a wayward 3-wood that was missing the fairways.

Never one to quit tinkering, Mickelson confided that he would likely switch to a different 3-wood prior to Saturday's third round at Pebble Beach, a decision which would only be surprising if it came from any other player in the field.

Entering the weekend, he trails co-leaders Sung Kang and Hiroshi Iwata by a single stroke, but as pleased as he is with his game, he's still trying to find the right combination for the clubs in his bag.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of decisions over the years which epitomize Mickelson's thought process, from threading a 6-iron shot through a space in the Augusta National pines the size of a headcover to his numerous and awe-inspiring, get-out-of-jail attempts from various hazards.

Playing musical chairs with his clubs certainly makes the list, even if he'd prefer the less maddening method.

On Friday, the driver switch seemed to have an immediate positive impact.

Mickelson birdied his first hole, then added four more on the front nine and an eagle to start on the back -- putting him within striking distance of what could have been a truly special round. Two bogeys in his final seven holes stalled the proceedings, but the final score still tied his best of the young year.

That should underscore what Mickelson has been maintaining about his game for a while now: It really is coming around.

"It's pretty much there," he said yet again on Friday. "The last piece is performing under the clutch. But I'm very pleased with the way I'm striking the ball, the way chipping, putting -- all that stuff -- the way it's coming together. Now it's just a matter of being in contention a few times, which I already have, so I expect to have a good weekend."

Mickelson is seeking his fifth victory at this tournament, which would tie Mark O'Meara for the all-time lead, and 43rd of his PGA Tour career. The lefty's odometer has been stuck ever since winning The Open Championship two-and-a-half years ago, but at 45, he seems intent on proving he can still win.

After all, if he didn't think he could, he wouldn't be toying with different drivers and trying to get dialed in and finding the right combination and calling himself an idiot when he gets it wrong.

He has been there, done that before. He used the same word to describe himself after faltering on the final hole of the U.S. Open nearly a decade ago.

That one left some scar tissue. This latest episode of idiocy was quickly erased one day later.

Of course, it should leave the rest of us still wondering: If an idiot shoots 68 with the wrong driver and 65 with the wrong 3-wood, just what will he do when he amends those decisions?

We'll have an entire weekend at Pebble Beach to find out the answer.