Commentary

Surely Mickelson knows better

Originally Published: July 16, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- He should know better. Of all people, Phil Mickelson should be among those players in the game of golf who turn bad conditions into their favor, who watch others pout while they prosper.

Jack Nicklaus always used to say he loved hearing the gripes of fellow competitors at major championships. In the mind of the "Golden Bear," those players were hardly threats.

Mickelson let himself become one of those who would not be a factor at the 139th Open Championship simply due to a surprisingly poor attitude.

And given his level of skill and success, including four major championships and 38 PGA Tour victories, this should not have become the negative it did for Mickelson, the No. 2-ranked player in the world.

He is at even par through 36 holes and stewing about the poor conditions he faced, a fact of life at many golf tournaments -- especially the Open.

His disposition did not become much better when he was talking to reporters after his round Friday and heard the announcement that play had been suspended due to high winds -- meaning those on the course were getting a break from the bad weather, or so it seemed.

"I'm happy for those guys," Mickelson said in full sarcasm mode. "That's great."

As it turned out, those who managed to finish after Mickelson did not benefit at all. Of the last 25 groups to finish the second round, not a single player broke par.

Weather is almost never a factor in suspending play at the Open because of the excellent drainage capabilities of sand-based links courses and a lack of thunderstorms.

But if golf balls can't stay still on a green, there is no choice but to halt play.

Regardless, Mickelson let this tournament get away from him Thursday, when he failed to make a birdie until the 18th hole and shot 73 to stand 10 shots behind leader Rory McIlroy.

In comments to ESPN's Tom Rinaldi afterward, "Lefty" admitted he let his poor luck with the draw get the best of him.

"It kind of crept into my attitude starting out," Mickelson said.

Asked about it again Friday, Mickelson said: "What I meant by that is, a good round in the morning [Thursday] was probably 6 under par, and when we teed off, a good round was probably 2 or 3 under par, and I was still trying to think 6 under par.

"And I had to adjust to what a good round was under the conditions I was facing, and I just kept trying to press the issue."

Give Mickelson credit for his honesty, because he could have just put this off on poor play.

But whether he let a poor attitude get in his way or failed to adjust his expectations, Mickelson is too experienced to let either get in the way of pursuing such an important title.

The luck of the draw is a way of life in professional golf, and is a factor week in and week out on the PGA Tour.

The way tee times work, a player who has an early time Thursday will go off late Friday and vice versa. It is deemed to be a fairness issue, but sometimes it is anything but. In many cases, the worst weather conditions can hit late one day and early the next -- which is sort of what happened to Mickelson.

"I'm frustrated, because I love this golf course and this tournament, and I felt I was playing well coming in," Mickelson said. "I didn't play well the first two days, but I felt I was playing well after some good practice sessions. And I didn't play well the first two days, and I've gotten kind of an unfortunate draw.

"But if I could have played like Retief [Goosen, who was in his group for the first two rounds and is 5 under par] and be right there, I think a lot can happen on the weekend.

"For me now, I've got to go out and shoot a low round tomorrow, and I don't know if the conditions will be conducive to that, but hopefully they will be."

As tough as it was for Mickelson, things were not good for those who played after him Friday. The 1-hour, 6-minute delay due to high winds didn't mean it suddenly became calm.

Tiger Woods, for example, bogeyed his first two holes but managed to shoot 73. Scores soared in the afternoon, with the stroke average a full five strokes higher.

"We thought it might give us a break, and we might come out there with less wind and have a chance at posting some pretty good numbers; that wasn't the case," Woods said. "It was blowing just as hard when we came back out, especially when we got out towards the loop [holes 8 through 11]. They were saying it's a hole-by-hole scenario, they could call it at any time -- but they didn't, even though it was blowing pretty good.

"You just have to go out there and deal with it; whether you're on the good end of the draw or not the good end, you just have to go out there and play and gut it out."

For Mickelson, it is another in a long line of disappointments at the Open, where he has a single top-10 and has contended only once.

This time, however, you wonder whether Mickelson was doomed before he even got started.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com