Commentary

Lefty trying to figure out recent woes

Updated: July 8, 2012, 11:38 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Unlike Tiger Woods, who seems to endure a referendum on every shot he hits in competition, Phil Mickelson's failures are chalked up to Phil being Phil.

His Hall of Fame career has been filled with so many ups and downs, so many highs and lows, that when he hits a rough patch, it is all but dismissed.

As has often been said about Lefty, the most consistent thing about him is his inconsistency.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesAfter Friday's 71 at the Greenbrier Classic, Phil Mickelson has now recorded seven straight rounds of par or worse. That's the longest such streak in the Hall of Famer's career.

So are we to be alarmed by his recent spate of lackluster play, or should we simply shrug it off as is usually the case when he struggles?

There is really no way to know.

Mickelson missed the cut at the Greenbrier Classic on Friday, doing so here for the second straight year despite widespread speculation he was being paid in some form or fashion by resort owner Jim Justice.

Such "appearance fees'' are not allowed on the PGA Tour, but there are ways to work around the rules through personal service contracts that require other duties. Woods' commitment was also reportedly secured under such a scenario.

Regardless of under-the-table dealings, Mickelson is gone after two rounds again, but perhaps more troubling is he now has played seven consecutive rounds over par -- the most in his 20-year PGA Tour career.

"I don't know what to say about that,'' Mickelson, 42, said as he recalled his poor play going back to the Memorial. "It hasn't been great. The parts don't feel that far off, but I haven't been putting them together.

"It doesn't feel bad off the tee. It doesn't feel bad with the iron play. It doesn't feel bad chipping or putting, but I'm making some loose drives here or there, some loose irons shots here or there, missing some short putts here or there, and just haven't been putting it all together.''

If Woods gave that answer, eyes would roll out of heads, cynicism would flow from lips.

But when Mickelson says it, there is little alarm, and it mostly has to do with the way his career has unfolded. He can play poorly one week, great the next, then poorly again.

He started this year with a tie for 49th at the Humana Challenge, a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open and a tie for 26th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. A week later, grouped with Woods on the final day, Lefty shot 64 at Pebble Beach to win his 40th PGA Tour title. The following week he lost in a playoff to Bill Haas at Riviera.

Mickelson was in contention for a fourth green jacket at the Masters, a triple-bogey on the final day perhaps being the difference between a tie for third and a playoff.

Since then, it has been a typical smattering of good and not-so-good play. He did tie for seventh at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, then began an odyssey that saw him withdraw after one round of the Memorial Tournament.

Mickelson shot 79 but was 7-over par for his last seven holes. Afterward, he admitted to being mentally fatigued, that a European vacation, corporate outings and too much golf had left him feeling out of sorts. What he didn't say was that an abundance of exuberant spectators who were breaking tour rules by snapping photos with cell phones got under his skin.

So Mickelson went home to prepare for the U.S. Open -- and hasn't been the same since.

He spoke on the eve of the tournament about how psyched he was to be grouped with Woods for the first two rounds, then shot 76 in the first round, barely made the cut and tied for 65th.

At the Greenbrier, he had a double-bogey each day, a penalty on Friday and left after a pair of 71s. That doesn't seem so bad, but the Old White TPC course is not exactly a brute. There have been rounds of 62 and 63 shot here so far. Two years ago, Stuart Appleby carded a 59.

"I really enjoy the golf course,'' Mickelson said. "I think it's just a wonderful test, and I have not played very well on it last year and this year. I don't get it. I mean, I certainly struggled a little bit on the greens both years, but nothing that should have led to these scores.''

Is there something more to this run of poor play?

Mickelson showed up very late for his first-round tee time at the U.S. Open, barely allowing himself time to practice and leading some to wonder if there's something else going on.

And given his personal history, it's a fair question -- and one that has been routinely dismissed.

Remember, Mickelson's wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, endured breast cancer diagnoses in recent years. And Mickelson himself has arthritis issues that he announced in 2010.

Although Mickelson's family did not join him at the Greenbrier, that is not unusual. He is here to work on his game, he said, and although he originally said he will be joining them early this coming week for a trip to Europe before getting ready for the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, he later entered next week's Scottish Open to get a little more practice in links golf.

Mickelson has repeatedly brushed aside queries about the arthritis and whether it has had an effect on his game.

Of course, it is possible that Mickelson doesn't want to bring any private matters into the public domain. It is also possible absolutely nothing off the course is bothering him and he's simply dealing with the frustrations that golfers endure.

Mickelson said he's looking forward to preparing for the Open, where he surprised many by tying for second a year ago in a tournament in which he previously had a woeful record.

For the first time in his career, Mickelson seemed to embrace links golf and said he was approaching the championship with a new attitude. It worked, as he was right there with nine holes to play at Royal St. George's before a short putt doomed him early on the back nine and Darren Clarke pulled away.

"I certainly am looking forward to links golf,'' Mickelson said. "I enjoy playing the ball on the ground and trying to keep it below head high on some tee shots and so forth. That was fun last year when we had some terrible weather. And it will hopefully play to one of my strengths, which is the short game, and I'll try to get that sharp heading into the British.''

Mickelson played in both the previous Opens at Lytham but contended in neither. Not a surprise, given that he has just two top-10s in 17 appearances.

Yet that's the thing about Phil. Unlike Tiger, there is a level of acceptance when he struggles, an understanding that this is a hard game with far more failure than success.

It might be as simple as that.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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