Commentary

Short trip to victory for Phil Mickelson?

Updated: February 18, 2012, 9:58 AM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson is commuting daily to the Northern Trust Open from his home in the San Diego area. After shooting a 1-under-par 70 on Friday at the Riviera Country Club, he was in a rush to make it home before dark. He has a 4-acre short-game facility behind his house. He could make the trip by private plane to his home in the exclusive Rancho Santa Fe area in a little more than an hour.

Earlier he had holed out for an eagle from 110 yards at the par-4 8th, but he still wanted to spend a little more time on his distance control with his short irons. He also wanted to work on his putting. On his property, he has poa annua greens like the ones at Riviera Country Club, where the green complexes are arguably the most difficult aspect of the historic George C. Thomas-designed course.

With a 6-under-par total, Mickelson holds a 1-shot lead over Pat Perez with some players still on the course during the second round.

After his round, Mickelson complained about the bumpiness of the green, or what he inelegantly called the "unsmoothness" around the holes. His two bogeys came at holes 7 and 9, where he left himself difficult uphill par putts.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
Harry How/Getty ImagesA late eagle put Phil Mickelson in position to win in back-to-back weeks for the third time in his PGA Tour career.

"If you're going to make 4-, 5-, 6-footers, you really have to have them uphill where you can hit them aggressive enough to hold the line, and they just kind of wobbled off," Mickelson said.

"So it was tough to really get too aggressive on some of the putts because you just didn't know where the short ones were going to kick off."

After really blustery conditions in the first round, the wind was much calmer Friday. Still, the Santa Anna winds were unpredictable.

"Today the wind was up early and then it just quit, and then it would just switch back and forth," said Jimmy Walker, who had the low round of the day with a 5-under 66 until that was bested by Jarrod Lyle and Perez's 65s. "So you had to really stay on top of it."

Matt Kuchar, who has been one of the most consistent players in the world for the past couple of years, had a 69 on Friday. The always-laid back 33-year-old former U.S. Amateur champion got a little jolt on the 6th green in his second round when he was stung on his right forearm by a bee.

"I felt like my elbow was a bit on fire after the bee sting," the former Georgia Tech star said. "But I kept going. They said if you have trouble breathing, stop, and we'll try to help you from there. But thankfully everything continued to go pretty normally."

Another former Georgia Tech star showed signs of life Friday. After shooting a 2-under-par 69 on Thursday, Stewart Cink got it to 4-under in his second round before two late bogeys left him with a 2-under total and an even-par 71 for the day. Cink, 38, has been struggling mightily of late with his golf swing. While he won the 2009 British Open in a playoff over Tom Watson, Cink really hasn't played all that consistently since 2008, when he had seven top-10s, including a win at the Travelers Championship.

In 2011, Cink fired Butch Harmon as his teacher after eight years and replaced him with Pat O'Brien, but O'Brien also was let go halfway through the season. Since the U.S. Open, Cink has been working with Chris O'Connell, who also works with Kuchar. It's been a tough go of it so far this season for him, despite a tie for 13th at the Farmers Insurance Open.

At the Waste Management Phoenix Open a couple of weeks ago, Cink shot a humiliating 12-over 83 in his first round. As soon as the number appeared on the leaderboard, many wanted to know whether Cink was ill or injured. He took to Twitter to say to his fans, "I'm not injured, except for slightly bruised ego."

On Friday, he was feeling more confident about his game.

"When you're transitioning into new stuff in your swing mechanics, you can get off, and that whole week at Phoenix, when I got off, I didn't know how to rescue myself," he said.

"I learned a lot about my swing over the last year. There are some bad habits that have been putting me where I was for three years. Right now I'm working to break those habits, and right now every shot is a battle against those instincts."

Earlier this week, Mickelson said his golf swing "is what it is," and that he and Harmon are just in the maintenance phase of their work. Although the game's most prolific tinkerer never seems to be at peace with his game, it will give him a lot of confidence over the weekend to know that he won't be fighting himself. Whatever was wrong with his game, Mickelson seems to have healed it at Pebble Beach last week.

"I've got to go out and shoot some low scores because they're out there," Mickelson said early Friday afternoon. "But I gave myself a good opportunity, which is what's so fun about competing and playing the tour is those opportunities on the weekend."

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.

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