Phil Mickelson clawing his way back

Phil Mickelson needs to get a grip. There are a lot of things spiraling around him right now, like an insider’s trading investigation and the personal imperative to win a U.S. Open before his backswing turns to stone. But, mostly right now, he just needs to get a grip.

His immediate answer to a disappointing year — one in which he has exactly zero top-10s finishes in 14 events: Start holding his putter like he just wants to be friends.

Picking up where he left off in the fourth round last week in Memphis, Mickelson said he’ll employ the “claw” grip at the U.S. Open when he putts the humpbacked greens of Pinehurst No. 2. Much more than the conventional grip, the claw takes the lower hand out of a putting stroke.

“You can’t win any tournament putting the way I’ve been putting,” Mickelson said.

“The reason I went to the claw is that I just have been a little bit to ‘poppy,’ if you will. I’ve been popping the ball. Not making a long kind of smooth brush stroke. When I take the bottom hand off, it allows me to do that. Ultimately I’ll go back to a regular grip, but for now, (the claw) helps me get the feel and flow back.”

Whether it is a good sign to be tinkering with a putting grip on the verge of a major championship is debatable. But Mickelson, who finished 11th last week, said he maintains a certain confidence returning to the site of one of his six U.S. Open runner-up finishes (famously won by Payne Stewart in 1999).

“I do feel heading into this year’s U.S. Open that this golf course, this set-up and everything about Pinehurst provides me the best opportunity (to win an Open),” he said Tuesday. “But I haven’t had the form this year to get too excited. Although I do feel it coming around; I felt it last week; I saw it in glimpses and I felt it again today (in practice).”

There were no new proclamations concerning the insider-trading investigation to which he was linked at the end of May — Mickelson has denied any wrongdoing. The subject never came up directly during Tuesday’s news conference, although Mickelson did touch on the topic of walling off distractions.

“Whether it’s outside activities or what’s going on on the course, you got to be able to control your thoughts and be able to visualize what you want to have happen with the shot at hand,” he said.

The Other Aussie: Remember Jason Day, the next big thing from Down Under? While countryman Adam Scott took over the No. 1 World Golf Ranking, Day's nagging hand problem has limited him to five PGA Tour events this season. "A thumb injury doesn't sound like a lot. But unfortunately, as golfers, we have to grip the golf club," he said.

But, look out. “I’m 100 percent healthy,” Day declared Tuesday. “Definitely looking forward to playing this week. I feel good about my game.”

Can soccer and golf co-exist? England's Justin Rose is trying to become the first repeat U.S. Open winner since Curtis Strange in 1988-89. With the start of the World Cup — England plays Italy on Saturday — Rose is leery of getting too caught up in that faraway event. He remembers losing a tournament after getting too worked up over another English match he watched before a Sunday tee time. "I never really calmed down," he said. "Maybe I'll be a little bit more careful about my emotions (this time)."

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