JUST PHIL BEING PHIL: More birdies than pars in Lefty’s 66
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson didn’t sit down on a grassy slope and slide down a dune like a 10-year-old on Saturday at Whistling Straits, but he did have an adventurous day on the links en route to a sizzling six-under 66, which included nine birdies — the most he’s ever made in one round at a PGA Championship.

It’s been a strange couple of years for Mickelson, and by that, I mean, his golf game hasn’t exactly been up to par ever since his spectacular victory at the 2013 Open Championship. In fact, that was the last time Mickelson hoisted any trophy. At 45-years-old, you could speculate that his golf game has lost its steam. After all, he ain’t no spring chicken anymore.

Mickelson showed signs of glimmer in the second round, but he also made some costly mistakes, which he lamented afterwards.

“With the three 3-putts and a couple other bogeys and mistakes that I made, it could have been in the low 60s and possibly broken the major record,” he said. “That would have been special. But you just can’t make those kind of mistakes.

“I finally, though, hit enough good shots. I hit a lot of good quality shots and made some good putts. But I did the hard things very well and the easy things not so well today. But it’s a process of slowly getting it back. It’s been two years since I’ve been at my best and it’s a little disappointing that it’s taken so long. But I’m trying to be patient and rounds like these help because I see how close I am to finally being at my best.”

It’s not to say Mickelson hasn’t had several bright moments in the last year. He’s had three top-five finishes this season, including ties for runner-up at the Masters and the 2014 PGA Championship. However, an unfortunate combination of wayward tee balls and poor putting has held him back.

“My swing’s been getting much better with the driver and with the 3-wood off the tee and back on plane, not having to rely on a late hand action to get the face square,” said Mickelson. “And I’ve been able to hit a lot more good shots.

“It’s actually been a surprise to me that I drove it so poorly last week and not as well this week, because I have actually been driving the ball much, much better now that the swing is back on plane and my posture’s a little bit better. All the little nuances and subtleties and fundamentals are slowly getting better, making the game a little bit easier. But I’m more surprised that I drove it poorly the first day than I am surprised that I drove it well later today.”

Mickelson’s wife Amy has been (half-jokingly) lobbying for him to be picked for the upcoming Presidents Cup team, as Mickelson is nowhere close to making it on his own — barring an extremely special next month — since he’s ranked 36th in the points standings at the moment. Obviously, Mickelson would like to make the squad on merit. He’s been on every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team since 1994 without needing a captain’s pick.

“I’ve got to play better. My game plan is to play through the points, which is Barclays and Deutsche Bank, and see where I’m at there. I’m certainly way far away. But I know that rounds like this tell me that I’m very close to having it click. If it clicks, I’ll end up — I should be able to win one of those next couple of events and get myself right back up there in contention for the points.

“I don’t want to have to be a pick. I haven’t been a pick in 20 years. I don’t want to be a pick now. I want to get on the team on my own merit, but I haven’t played well enough soon enough to do it.

“We have got two events left and, like I said, I’ve been saying I’m close, I’m saying I’m close, I just feel like my game is there. I actually don’t feel like my game is off, I’m hitting more and more quality shots every round. But mentally, when you haven’t been there in a long time, I’m not as focused, I’m not as sharp. I’m not doing the little things well like I need to and I let a lot of shots escape me today in a round that was still very good.”

With the leaders still on the course, Mickelson is currently T24 at five-under for the championship.