Mickelson will play in pain

Posted: June 13, 2007

OAKMONT, Pa. - Look at things from the glass-half-full perspective. At least Phil Mickelson's injured left wrist served a purpose yesterday. It kept him from being asked too many questions about his final-hole brain cramp at last year's U.S. Open. Which, of course, will always remain a part of him until he adds another major to his resume.

"I'm such an idiot," he proclaimed, once the smoke had lifted. Few argued the point.

He wasn't the only one who screwed up at the end. But given his track record, merely the most indelible.

"I'll still hear about that," he said during a 30-minute interview at Oakmont Country Club, where this year's second major will tee off tomorrow. "I don't ever want to put [what happened] totally behind me . . . If I just forget about it, I'm not taking advantage of the opportunity to take advantage of some weaknesses hopefully [turned] into strengths."

In case anyone else forgot, Lefty came to the 72nd hole last June needing a par to win his third straight major. Instead, he made a double bogey and lost by one. From there, his season went bust. But now he has a new swing coach, Butch Harmon, who once worked with Tiger Woods. And he was playing great until he hurt his wrist hitting his ball out of the rough here during a practice round on May 28. A week later he withdrew from the Memorial after 11 holes. And he hasn't even practiced much since, even though he has tried.

He received a cortisone shot to relieve the inflammation, and it's starting to kick in. He's doing some light therapy. He played nine holes yesterday, and spent 30 minutes on the range. He plans to do the same today. He won't be pain-free. He'll play with a light brace. It shouldn't affect his putting and chipping. Right now the most he can say for sure is that he's in the field. What that means, not even he really knows.

"I'm trying not to go in with too many expectations as to how high I finish, and so forth," he said. "I want to continue to improve my ball-striking without aggravating my wrist any more, and hopefully implement my game plan that I've developed the last couple of weeks with [one of his coaches, David] Pelz. I'm just not sure if I'll be able to."

Obviously, it would help if Phil didn't have to hit too many shots out of that deep stuff that guards the fairways. As good as he is, straight has not always been the strongest part of his game.

"I've tried not to hit too many drivers yet," he said. "I don't want to go at it full speed just yet. Just kind of easing into it. It's certainly not the way I wanted to be coming into this tournament. I wanted to have good practice sessions. I wanted to work on my driving. I'm not sure where the physical game is going to be. I do have concerns. But I'm going to do the best I can do. I'm going to do all that I can to do that.

"If I don't overdo it, it should be fine on its own in a couple of weeks. Which is why I'm taking it day to day. The inflammation is continuing to go down. But again, I don't plan on hitting it in the rough."

He was joking. In his situation, what else can he do? A wise man once said there's no crying in golf. If this weren't a major, he probably wouldn't be playing. But it is. And there's only four of them a year.

"You know, we could talk to [USGA executive director] David Fay about moving this back a week," Mickelson said with a smile. "In fact, I had dinner with him last night. But he wasn't very receptive to the idea."

Hey, it was worth a shot. Since rescheduling isn't an option, he has no choice. Unless he really can't go.

Confidence always has seemed to be a fragile commodity with the second-best golfer of his era. But this is one of those times when nobody's going to kill him if he has a less-than-memorable week.

"I'm just focused on trying to play well, and trying to get healthy to execute the shots that I need to execute," he stressed. "I'm not really able to think about the results, or trying to win or [finish in the] top 10 or make cuts or anything like that. That's not really in my thought process."

In 1994, when the Open was last held here, he finished tied for 47th. He was only 23. Since then he's had six top-sevens, including four runner-ups. So there have been openings. But it looks as if he's going to have to wait at least another year to finally get any closure.

The only time Tiger even came up, the subject was fatherhood. Since Phil and his wife, Amy, have three children, and Tiger and his wife, Elin, are expecting their first, Mickelson was asked what words of wisdom he might offer. Instead, he good-naturedly punted.

"Yeah, me giving Tiger advice doesn't really feel right, about anything," he said.

Fair enough. He can be loose. There's no reason for him to be anything but. He might not like it, but he understands the reality.

For a change, Phil's the victim before the carnage ever gets under way. *

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