Mickelson fights faltering focus to chase historic PGA victory

Phil Mickelson hits his approach shot to the 9th green during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament May 6, 2021. ― Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports pic via Reuters
Phil Mickelson hits his approach shot to the 9th green during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament May 6, 2021. ― Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports pic via Reuters

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KIAWAH ISLAND, May 23 — Phil Mickelson saw how well he can score when he keeps his concentration, but the 50-year-old US left-hander also paid the price when his focus slipped Saturday at the PGA Championship.

Mickelson, trying to become golf’s oldest major champion, fired a two-under par 70 to grab a one-stroke lead over countryman Brooks Koepka after 54 holes at windy Kiawah Island.

“Lefty” birdied five of the first 10 holes to seize a five-stroke lead on the punishing Ocean Course, looking as if he would run away from the field in his bid for a sixth career major crown.

“I’m having so much fun that it’s easier to stay in the present and not get ahead of myself. I think that’s a big part of it,” Mickelson said.

“I felt I had a very clear picture on every shot and I’ve been swinging the club well, and so I was executing. I just need to keep that picture a few more times.”

Mickelson made bogey at 12 and double bogey at the 13th, then parred his way to the clubhouse, but his once-mighty margin was down to one, that only after Koepka closed with a bogey and Mickelson rescued par after going over the 18th green.

“Even though it slipped a little bit and I didn’t stay as focused and as sharp on a few swings, it’s significantly better than it has been for a long time,” Mickelson said.

“I’ll continue to work on that and hopefully I’ll be able to eliminate a couple of those loose swings tomorrow.

“If I can just stay sharp, I’ll post a score that better reflects how I’m actually playing.”

Those mental lapses in focus could be costly as Mickelson tries to break the major champion age mark set by American Julius Boros when he won the 1968 PGA Championship at age 48.

“It’s just an example of losing the feel and the picture of the shot,” Mickelson said. “I get a little bit jumpy, a little bit fast from the top, and when that happens I get narrow and I end up flipping it.”

That’s how he found sand at 12 and water at 13.

“Those two swings were more a product of not staying or keeping the feel and the focus of the shot,” he said. “So that’s just a small little thing that I need to iron out.”

Crowd loves Phil

It helps to have his brother Tim as his caddie.

“Certainly my brother has played a big part in kind of keeping me present and in the moment and not letting a couple of bad swings affect me,” Mickelson said.

It also doesn’t hurt that Mickelson is a crowd favorite in one of the loudest golf atmospheres since last year’s Covid-19 pandemic shutdown, with a limited spectator maximum of 10,000 cheering him onward.

“I’m very appreciative of the way the people have been supportive,” Mickelson said. “It’s nice to have people out here enjoying the game and supporting us the way they have. It has been a lot of fun.” — AFP

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