Inside Phil Mickelson’s mind, one can only imagine, is a confusing place, something along the lines of Alice in Wonderland or the Wizard of Oz with munchkins and rabbits scampering around, before disappearing in frequent and sudden blasts of clarity.
How else would you explain his brain cramp of pulling out of the Memorial back in June after a nasty 79, saying he wanted to focus on the U.S. Open, where he tied for 65th, then followed up with a summer-long record unbecoming of a World Golf Hall of Fame member.
Suddenly, an epiphany, which some might call the claw grip that he employed on the greens towardS the end of the year. Whether it was as simple as his putting grip can be argued, but the result was two top five finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which bring us to the present.
After playing with energetic Keegan Bradley, Mickelson can finish the Ryder Cup undefeated, depending on what happens in Sunday singles.
That scenario was set up by a convincing 7 and 6 win in Saturday foursomes for Mickelson and Bradley against Luke Donald and Lee Westwood that helped push the American lead to 8-4 and gave captain Davis Love III some options.
That lead, with points coming throughout the lineup, made it easy for Love to sit down Mickelson and Bradley for a rest in the afternoon.
About the only concern with that time off is whether Mickelson would open the door and allow the trolls of earlier this season back into his melon. It’s unlikely now that he’s on his own, with Bradley playing elsewhere in singles.
With the Americans’ commanding 10-6 overall lead, the pressure isn’t great for Mickelson to produce. The Europeans need a Sunday for the ages to win, but even without the pressure, Mickelson wants a zero on the right side of his won-lost ledger this year.
He’s emerged as an experienced leader and there’s pride in continuing in that role. He would like to continue improving his sub-standard overall Ryder Cup record, with his three wins thus far this year elevating him to 14-17-6 overall.
Going undefeated would also put an exclamation point on Mickelson being “back,” a term that has been attached to his old nemesis Tiger Woods, who is 0-3 alongside Steve Stricker.
Give that duo credit, though, for almost erasing a 4-up lead by Sergio Garcia and Donald, who finished with a 1-up win, despite Woods’ five birdies on the back nine.
For Mickelson, a win on Sunday would take him above .500 in singles in Ryder Cup play to 5-4, while Woods would improve his dominant singles record to 5-1-1.
Finishing off nicely would send both Mickelson and Woods into the off-season with positive mindsets. The Ryder Cup has been a microcosm of the PGA Tour, with the emergence of young stars such as Bradley, Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson.
Any comment made about the futures of this marquee pair must include two considerations for thorough assessment: Their own games and the depth on tour.
They don’t control their fates the way they once did, so that emphasizes success when it does come, especially in big events. Is what they have good enough to keep Mickelson, 42, and Woods, about to turn 37, at the top of golf’s upper echelon for an extended period of time?
Will they be automatic picks in the next Ryder Cup, or need a captain’s pick as Mickelson almost did this year and as Woods did in last year’s Presidents Cup?
There are plenty of opinions on those subjects, but making a statement on a grand stage such as the Ryder Cup goes a long way toward answering those questions, not only for speculators, but also themselves.
Despite the tilt in favour of the Americans, Sunday singles still have meaning to two of golf’s biggest stars.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Both Mickelson and Woods know that a 10-6 lead can be erased in singles. They were part of the American team that did just that at Brookline in 1999, when Love was part of the team, as well ... So much was made about the set-up of Medinah favouring the American big hitters, but this has turned into a putting contest that has been won by the home side ... Don’t let young kids watch when Ian Poulter has his game face on — and that’s been all the way through the Ryder Cup. Poulter is 3-0 this year, with a magnificent 11-3 career record and finished yesterday’s 1-up victory with Rory McIlroy against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson with five birdies. Even McIlroy was shaking his head in disbelief ... Say what you want about players getting jacked up for the Ryder Cup, but McIlroy looks tired ... A few bits of delightful gamesmanship as morning play got going. Bradley was loving it when he broke from practice to jog over to the first tee for not only his own adrenalin rush, but also to rile the partisan crowd ... Poulter had his own moment when he mimicked Bubba Watson’s efforts to get the partisan crowd into it the day before, Poulter did the same and got a combination of “USA, USA” and “Ole, Ole.”