Over Ills, Phil Swallows Quail Hollow
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Things didn't look so good for Phil Mickelson earlier this week when he was forced to withdraw mid-round of Wednesday's pro-am play at the Quail Hollow Championship.
Preparing for his first tournament appearance since winning a third Masters Green Jacket three weeks ago, golf's favorite player -- no longer is it worth debating -- was on the sixth hole when he became ill.
"I think it was food poisoning," he would say later. The result was bad enough that medical personnel assisted Mickelson off the course and to a treatment center where he received 2 1/2 bags of IV fluid.
Mickelson was sick, sick, sick and tournament officials were feeling a little nauseous themselves.
Mickelson, however, wasn't worried.
Apparently, he knew a secret.
"Yeah, I'm 2-for-2," he said. "The last two times I've fainted and woken up in a pool of vomit, I've won. Laying there on the floor wondering where I am, a good omen came over me."
Mickelson insists it's true.
"Doral and San Diego back in '01 or '02," he said. "It was the year I had just hit it in the ocean at Pebble and the next week I won in San Diego."
Now, after a second-round 68, he has reason to feeling pretty good about this week, too.
And he's looking good.
Mickelson didn't even need the blue-tinted alligator shoes that perfectly matched the hue of his shirt to be stylin' on Friday. Not when you are a model of consistency with an always fashionable bogey-free round that featured two front-side birdies and an eagle followed by a string of solid pars coming home.
Coupled with a first-day 70, Mickelson is 6-under, tied for third and two shots back of leader Billy Mayfair.
"I feel much better," Mickelson said. "I think it was a quick deal, a 48-hour thing, so I feel a lot better. I think for the weekend I should be 100 percent."
That's just what the over-flow gallery that is embracing and cheering Mickelson's every move wants to hear.
As Tiger Woods' public image grows continually more tarnished -- a new report charges he slept with more than 120 different women in five years as a married man -- Mickelson's support seems to have grown in numbers and volume. And as he always has, Mickelson returns the love -- fist-bumping youngsters along the gallery ropes, periodically tossing them golf balls and finally spending extended amounts of time signing post-round autographs.
Woods, meanwhile, was on his way to a horrendous second round, was heckled and missed the cut.
"Phil has always been very popular and this is also his first start after winning at Augusta," observed playing partner Jim Furyk, who rode the surrounding energy to a second-round 65, and is 4-under. "This place is excited about having him.
"It's interesting. Everybody is leaning out, wants to touch, wants a piece. He gets a very good reception. And I think he handles it well, too."
The fact Mickelson is playing his best golf of the season puts him over the top.
Expected to fill the early season void created by Woods absence while dealing with his sex scandal, Mickelson instead struggled throughout the early season.
Or did he?
"What do you mean?" he asked. "The season just started three weeks ago."
Mickelson laughed at his own joke and gave the goofy grin that is his own. Everything is fun when you are making birdies. Or in this case, making putts. And that's the sudden difference.
"Two weeks prior to the Masters, he got his hands where I like them," said Dave Stockton, the Champions Tour player and putting guru, who last year began working with Mickelson. "There's no breakdown in the stroke.
"I hated to see him all hunched over with the ball way ahead of him with a big forward press. Now he's got the ball back in his stance."
Something is working. After managing only one top-10 (a T-8) in seven events, Mickelson rolled through Augusta National and has continued the momentum so far this week.
Beginning second-round play off the 10th tee, Mickelson birdied the par-4 11th hole after a 146-yard second shot to three feet, eagled the par-5 with a six-foot putt, and birdied the difficult par-3 17th after a tee shot to inside four feet.
From there he finished with 10 consecutive pars, several earned with gritty one-putt saves.
"Those par-saves kept the round going because I hit a couple of wayward shots today," Mickelson said. "It wasn't my best ball-striking round by far, and yet I was able to keep the momentum of my round."
That's just sick.