Phil Mickelson says he’s unlocked the mystery of putting, which he expected to result in an end to his British Open frustrations, but others will need to bone up on their cryptography to crack the code.
"I am really optimistic about this week and going forward, because I'm starting to putt as well as I ever have. I putted great last week, and more than that I've been putting well now for months, and feel like I've really keyed in on something," Mickelson, who last week at the Scottish Open chalked up his first victory in the U.K., said on Tuesday. "I believe I have kind of found the secret to my own putting and what I need to do to putt well."
Brimming with confidence over his hush-hush stroke and seemingly beyond the anguish of another runner-up finish at the U.S. Open -- thanks in large part to last week’s triumph -- Mickelson hoped to ride his flat stick to his first Open Championship victory. But he adamantly refused to divulge the key to what he believes will be his success at Muirfield.
"I'm not going to discuss it. I feel that I've kind of keyed in on something, and I don't really want to share," Lefty told reporters ahead of the third major of the season. "I think that last week was a very positive sign for me, because I putted difficult fescue grasses, and in wind conditions on Sunday, very well. And hopefully that one common thread that's given me problems here, I hopefully have solved."
Mickelson’s stats back up his optimism (if you overlook that he needed a playoff to win at Castle Stuart after three-putting the final hole in regulation). He’s ranked 11th on tour in strokes gained-putting and 19th in total putting, which is just a wee bit better than 134th and 108th, respectively, just two years ago.
Indeed, Mickelson entered the week believing he had Muirfield right where he wanted it, which is pretty much how the popular southpaw begins every tournament. Never mind that he finished 66th in 2002, the last time he competed in The Open at Muirfield.
The four-time major champion’s lips were sealed about how he planned to putt himself into contention in a tourney in which he has tied for second once (2011) and has just one additional top-10 finish, but more often than not has been out of the running in his 19 British Open starts to date. With the course playing hard and fast, though, Mickelson did reveal that he planned to give his driver a rest in favor of a 3-wood, as he did at Merion.
Mickelson also flew in the face of conventional wisdom when he allowed that he planned to pack a high-loft wedge in place of the big club.
"I feel like the 64 degree wedge on this firm ground can save me some shots, and I just don't see how a driver is going to help me in any areas," he said. "I'm able to hit that 3-wood on this firm ground every bit as close enough in distance on the holes. And distance on any tee shot is not even in my mind.
"It's avoiding bunkers, avoiding rough, getting the ball in the fairway," Mickelson noted. "And I can do it a lot easier with clubs other than driver."
With his Open recipe all but complete, the one ingredient Mickelson hoped to add to the mix was a dash of good fortune.
"You need a little bit of luck to come out on top here," said Mickelson, who recalled the horrible weather Tiger Woods encountered when he scored that 81 at Muirfield in 2002. "It was one of the worst breaks imaginable, especially after he had won the first two majors and had a shot at the Grand Slam.
"It's part of the tournament here, you need an element of luck, but you also need to play some great golf," he concluded. "These last few months I've played well enough to get in contention and play well here, but I do need some luck."