• Birdies and Bogeys

Mickelson's game is almost ready for major run

Bob Harig | ESPN.com
May 8, 2014
Phil Mickelson has had his worst start to a season since turning pro © AP

Front nine

This is the longest Phil Mickelson has gone into any season as a professional without finishing in the top 10 on the PGA Tour.

All of which makes things a bit more perplexing - but also somewhat understandable.

He started the year by tying for second at the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour. The result included a triple-bogey on the back nine of the final round. He still nearly caught winner Pablo Larrazabal.

Since then, Mickelson has withdrawn twice from tournaments and missed the cut at the Masters.

After a 63 on Saturday at Quail Hollow, Mickelson had a chance to win for the first time since the Open Championship at Muirfield in July. Instead, he couldn't make a putt, shot 76 and ended up in a tie for 11th.

"I've got to cut myself a little slack," said Mickelson, who will try for his second Players Championship victory this week. "Because for a long time early on, I wasn't healthy, wasn't able to go at the ball with the right amount of speed, which is going to not just affect my driving, but also affect my distance control, because I don't know exactly what speed I'm going through impact.

"But I've been feeling great since a few weeks prior to the Masters and I feel like last week was a good week for me to try to help put all things together."

Mickelson met with putting guru Dave Stockton on Monday to try to find some consistency in a stroke that has let him down. Some of it had to do with a tweak in his grip, and Mickelson said he's excited about moving forward, especially with the US Open looming in five weeks.

"For me, I need to get in contention to kind of build my confidence, because the early part of the year I haven't had that experience, and it showed in my performance on Sunday," Mickelson said. "So I want to get in contention here, which is why I'll play Memorial and Memphis as well leading into the US Open."

Mickelson won the Players in 2007 but has not finished among the top 10 since.

Some greens at Sawgrass have been out of action during practice rounds © Getty Images

At the turn

The Players Championship is now in its eighth year being played in May after a move from March, and that six-week difference is proving how difficult the agronomy can be between those two periods.

When the tournament was played in March, the course was overseeded with rye grass, frequently used in Florida in the winter months in order to give a course a green look while other grass goes dormant.

With the move to May and warmer temperatures, overseeding is no longer necessary, but there have still been challenges to the point that several greens on the TPC Sawgrass course have been problematic.

The fourth, 11th and 12th greens were not open to practice until Wednesday, and prior to that there were also issues with the ninth and 14th greens. Part of it was due to a harsh winter as well as a misapplication of a substance meant to combat those problems.

All of the greens are scheduled to be replaced following the 2015 tournament.

"We have the expertise, we have the people in place," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "It's just a few things that need to be adjusted, and I think we're going to be fine."

Back nine

In his blog post this week on his website, Tiger Woods covered a lot of ground, the biggest news being that his rehab from back surgery has been a "slow process" and that he remains unclear when he'll be able to compete again - though he is signed up for a new team event in Argentina.

But there were several gems, including his revelation that he didn't miss the Masters as much as many would have thought - he has missed majors before and knew he couldn't play. And that he was watching because Fred Couples got into contention.

"I actually watched quite a bit of it because Freddie was in contention," Woods said. "As soon as his name went up on the leaderboard, I started watching what he was doing. Once he got off to that bad start Sunday, it wasn't as much fun."

Woods also congratulated Bubba Watson on his second Masters, but then offered up somewhat of a backhanded compliment.

"The golf course sets up great for a long fader who is left-handed," Woods said. "It sets up perfectly because it's so much easier to cut the ball than it is to turn it over on No.10. On No.13, it is much easier to cut it and carry it [for a left-handed player]. If you try to carry it with a draw [for a right-handed player], it's not going to stay in the air as much as it would with a cut. Same thing with No.14. I think that's one of the reasons Phil [Mickelson] and Bubba have done so well there is because they both fade the ball really well for lefties."

Tiger Woods does not know when he will return to action following back surgery © Getty Images

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com

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