Phil Mickelson in Masters contention despite inconsistent putting

Phil Mickelson tees off on the 7th hole during the second round of the Masters Friday at Augusta National.(Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Phil Mickelson tees off on the 7th hole during the second round of the Masters Friday at Augusta National.(Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

When it comes to distance off the tee, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson can still keep up with most of the young whippersnappers in the Masters field. He’s proved that again this week.

Wielding a 47-inch driver, the left-hander has hammered it around Augusta National for the first two rounds. He’s needed to muster that power advantage to overcome an inconsistent putter and now enters the weekend among the contenders at 5 under. Mickelson can realistically dream of having rival Tiger Woods slip a fourth green jacket around his shoulders late Sunday afternoon in Butler Cabin.

“I’m striking the ball exceptional, and I’m putting horrific,” Mickelson said. “And if I get that fixed this weekend, I’m going to make a run.”

Mickelson didn’t have the 36-hole lead in any of his three previous Masters wins. He was fourth in 2010, fifth in 2006 and third in 2010 at the halfway point before going on to victory. He’ll begin the weekend four shots behind the leaders.

Mickelson finished his first round Friday morning and signed for a 69. He shot a 70 in his second round, thanks to five birdies and three bogeys.

Mickelson’s length off the tee was on display throughout Friday’s round. He blew it high over the trees on the ninth hole and reached the landing area at the bottom of the hill. He hit it far enough on the par-4 14th and 17th holes that he required only a wedge into the green. He hit a 5-iron into the par-5 second hole for the second consecutive round.

“I’m driving like a stallion,” Mickelson said with a little smirk.

But stallions are known for power, and Secretariat never had to make an eight-footer for birdie. And Mickelson never found his rhythm on the greens Friday. He made two long birdies – a 29-footer at No. 2 and a 23-footer at No. 5. The other three birdie putts converted were from inside 10 feet.

He was more miffed about the misses. He failed to convert potential birdies at Nos. 7, 8, 11, 12, 14 and 17. Mickelson’s bogeys came when he missed the 16th green and failed to make an 8-footer to save par. He three-putted No. 3 after landing his approach above the hole. That faux pas caused Mickelson to slap his side in dismay.

“I’m very frustrated and disappointed with the way I’ve putting,” Mickelson said. “I’ve left eight, nine, 10 shots on the green, and it’s pathetic. You can’t make those mistakes, give up those shots up in this field in this competition.”

Mickelson couldn’t pinpoint whether the problem was with speed or alignment. He left his brief media conference to get some diagnostic feedback from the Quintic Putting System that measures everything from face angle to impact speed to skid.

“It hasn’t been that bad, just all the good putts I’ve hit have lipped out,” Mickelson said. “And I’ve hit some bad ones, too, but I’m going to get that fixed.”

This is Mickelson’s best chance to win since his last victory in 2010. He was in the picture when Bubba Watson won in 2012, only to be done in by a final-round 72. He tied for second in 2015, but that was the year Jordan Spieth went wire-to-wire and won by four shots. He opened the 2019 Masters with a 67, but watched any chances go poof with a second-round 73.

But experience is a great equalizer at Augusta National, and Mickelson has now played 102 rounds there, more than any other player in the field who isn’t eligible for the PGA Tour Champions. He has 56 rounds under par and 32 rounds in the 60s. His course knowledge at Augusta National – and his confidence there – is unmatched.

“I think if there’s ever a course that I was going to compete on, it would be this one,” he said. “You don’t have to be perfect. I think that a lot of times the past knowledge and knowing where to hit it and knowing the shot that you’re going to be faced with can come into play.”

Mickelson is intellectually honest enough to know his time to compete on the PGA Tour is drawing to a close. Other than a tie for second at the WGC FedEx St. Jude, Mickelson’s record since post-COVID competition resumed is spotty. He tied for 71st at the PGA Championship and missed the cut at his beloved U.S. Open. But he dipped his toe in the Champions Tour cash pool twice and won both times. And he certainly is in his happy place this week.

“We’ve got 36 more holes,” Mickelson said. “And I’m playing well enough. I struck it well enough to keep me in it, despite probably being last in the field in putt. But I’m going to get that fixed for tomorrow’s round.”