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Double Trouble Leaves Bad Taste for Mickelson

Times Staff Writer

Is there a timetable for U.S. Open fallout? It’s four days later and the dust still hasn’t settled on Phil Mickelson’s double bogey on the last hole that cost him the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

“It could take longer than that,” Rick Smith, Mickelson’s swing coach, said Wednesday.

Back home in Rancho Santa Fe, Mickelson may not be able to stay in bed for days, as he predicted he would, mostly because he has three children under the age of 7. Though he has stayed out of sight, his train-wreck six at the 18th hole Sunday remains a hot topic.

Smith said it was all about the timing.

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“It was how and when it happened,” he pointed out. “Nobody’s talking at this point about Tiger missing the cut, nobody’s talking about Retief [Goosen] missing the cut or that Ernie [Els] was out of it and Vijay [Singh] was out of it. You’re too under the microscope when something happens like that.

“And nobody made a 30-footer to beat him. That leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Dave Pelz, Mickelson’s short-game coach, said he and Mickelson had already begun discussions about preparing for the British Open and that a trip to Royal Liverpool Golf Club as early as next week wasn’t out of the question. Pelz said Mickelson is a good candidate to rebound quickly.

“None of us are perfect,” he said. “It won’t affect him down to the core.”

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Smith said he’d spoken twice with Mickelson since Sunday night and that Mickelson was still as disappointed as anyone could imagine.

“It’s just so challenging in his mind that he would lose the U.S. Open on the last hole,” Smith said.

But that is what happened. Mickelson had a one-shot lead when he pulled a driver from his bag and hit the ball 30 yards off-line to the left, off a hospitality tent. Then he tried to hit a slice around a tree and the ball struck the tree squarely instead. His third shot plugged into a greenside bunker, his fourth rolled across the green and down a slope against the fringe, his fifth was a chip shot past the hole and his sixth was a putt that rolled in.

Instead of a fairway, Mickelson hit a tent, a tree and a bunker. Instead of a third consecutive major title, Mickelson wound up tied for second with Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie, and Australian Geoff Ogilvy’s first major championship trophy dropped in his lap.

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Since then, the incident has widely been referred to as Mickelson’s major meltdown and has become fair game for comedians.

Said NBC’s Jay Leno on his “Tonight” show, “North Korea is getting ready to test a missile they say can reach the [U.S.]. Let’s just hope their aim is as bad as Phil Mickelson’s.”

Mickelson used the same fade driver, a Callaway FT-3 Fusion with a 45-inch shaft, that he’d used to win the BellSouth Classic by 13 shots and the Masters by two. He had another driver specially made for Winged Foot, with a 43-inch shaft, the equivalent of a three-wood with more pop, but he chose to stay with the one with which he was familiar.

Smith said the problem wasn’t with Mickelson’s choice of driver, but with his swing.

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“It wasn’t the swing that he made to win the Masters, or the BellSouth by a million,” Smith said. “It didn’t happen. The old swing came back a bit....

“It was technical, not mental.

“Every player will always fall back into the old.... It’s not a choke. He was struggling with his driving all day. If you’re playing well, then blow it off the planet. If you’re striping it every single time and then you hit it 50 yards off-line, that’s a choke.”

Smith also said criticism of Mickelson’s caddie, Jim MacKay, was unwarranted because it’s the player’s decision to pull the club, especially on the last hole of a major.

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And that choice in such a pressure situation will always be subject to second-guessing, Smith said:

“Anybody could say he could have hit four-wood. But it’s 450 yards, uphill and into the wind,” he said. “The hole sets up for a cut, but man, what a hole. Could he have hit a four-iron or five-iron? Probably.”

Mickelson hit only two of 14 fairways in his final round of 74.

“If he had driven it at Winged Foot the same way he did at the Masters, he would have won by 10 shots,” Pelz said. “His short game was that good. And faced with a similar set of circumstances next time, he’ll probably be more conservative.”

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Next on Mickelson’s playing schedule is the Western Open, July 6-9, at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club near Chicago.

Unless something changes, Mickelson won’t play again after the Western Open until the British Open, July 20-23 at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.

“He will come back,” Smith predicted. “And he will come back with a vengeance.”


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