Gerry Dulac: Mickelson putting himself in sticky situation



PINEHURST, N.C. — The 114th U.S. Open is just a day old, and Phil Mickelson continues to be dogged by the same annoyances: Failure to make putts and an FBI investigation.

He can’t explain the one. And he won’t talk about the other.

It was just another day at the national championship for Lefty, who put himself in position after one round to at least keep alive for another day his opportunity to a) win the one major championship that has eluded him, or b) finish second again.

“I’m never upset, anything off of par, it’s usually a good score,” Mickelson said when his day was over and he found himself five shots off the lead held by Martin Kaymer. “It’s a good start. I didn’t hurt myself any.”

Not if you don’t consider some of his putting woes.

Or his inability to get to the clubhouse without, well, hurting himself.

The latter was on display Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2, just as it seems to be everywhere Mickelson has played this season, where he just couldn’t hold a share of the lead he had after 14 holes of the opening round.

Letting rounds slip away has been a recurring theme for Mickelson in 2014.

Most recently, he did it in the first round of the Memorial when he was 5-under for 15 holes, only to finish with a bogey and then two double bogeys.

It wasn’t that bad this time, but two bogeys in the final four holes certainly doesn’t constitute a charge to the finish line. Not after Mickelson got to 2 under with a two-putt birdie from the fringe at the par-5 fifth.

“I had a chance to get 3, 4, 5 under today had I made some makeable opportunities,” Mickelson said. “But I didn’t throw anything away on some of the short ones. I didn’t miss a fairway with my driver, it’s an unusual thing for me. The driver feels really good. I think that’s the club that is going to help me play well this week. And the one club that’s hurting me is the putter.

“I feel good on short putts, but I’ve got to make some 15-, 20-footers, the ones that can go either way, to shoot a good enough number here. There’s not enough pins that you can go at and send that 20-footer up the hill. I’ve got to make some of those.”

No player in the history of the U.S. Open has finished second more times than Mickelson, who has done it six times, a streak that began at Pinehurst in 1999. If he can end that dubious distinction this year, he will become only the sixth player in history to win all four majors and complete golf’s Grand Slam.

But, to do so, he will have to get a better grip on his putting stroke. Figuratively, and perhaps literally, for that matter.

Mickelson is back to using the claw grip when he putts, a maneuver where he reverses his lower hand and places the shaft of his putter between his thumb and fingers. Mickelson said he doesn’t know how long he will continue with that style, and admits to preferring a conventional putting grip.

“That’s not a long-term thing,” Mickelson said. “It might be weeks, it might be months, it might be days, hours, I don’t know. It’s just one of those things. Last year I putted just so well for a year and a half, and I’ve kind of over-done what I was doing and I’ve got to kind of settle back in.

“The claw helps with my alignment, it keeps my lines straight and I can hit out of it with the bottom hand. So when that starts to go away on my natural grip, I’ll go back to that.”

Mickelson seems more concerned with that than an FBI investigation linking him to an insider-trading scandal involving billionaire investor Carl Icahn and gambler Billy Walters.

But, according to a story Thursday by The New York Times, in which the paper cited multiple sources, no evidence was found that Mickelson was involved in questionable stock-trading in shares of Clorox.

However, the paper said he remains under investigation over well-timed trades involving Dean Foods stock that netted him nearly $1 million, according to sources.

“I’ll continue to say, I haven’t done anything wrong,” Mickelson said after his round when asked about the report. “I’m willing to help out, love to help out any way on the investigation.

“So, like I said before, with an investigation going on, I’m not going to comment any further on it. But I’ll continue to say that I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.”

He can’t say the same for his putting.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com.

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