Brian Keogh in Miami
Phil Mickelson might be a human rollercoaster ride but the left-hander’s coach, Butch Harmon, believes he has found a way taking some of the thrill out of Phil and making him a serious contender for next month's Masters.
As the world number three raced two strokes clear of Nick Watney in the WGC CA-Championship at Doral on 13-under par thanks to a second round 66, Harmon explained that we may be about to see a far more consistency from one of the most exciting player in the game.
“He can stand there and hit it hard and know that it's not going to go to the right,” Harmon said at Doral yesterday. “That's given him a lot of confidence because in the past he had a two-way miss. He could hit it way right, or way left. He doesn't have that feeling any more.
“He drives with a lot more confidence, which is why he's going at it harder and hitting it further because he feels he's keeping it in play.”
Mickelson has a checkered history at Doral with his best performance caming in 2005, where he duelled down the stretch with Tiger Woods only to come up one stroke short of his nemesis.
He won the Masters for the second time the following year - using two drivers - and while his performances so far this season have been erratic in the extreme, he appears to have found some consistency in the long game department and sharpened his short game to a dangerous degree.
“He's spent a lot of time on his short game,” Harmon said. “Because we've worked so hard on the full swing he felt he hasn't spent enough time on his short game. In the past two or three weeks he has worked really hard on it. He feels he is driving the ball as well as he has ever driven it.
“The stats are a little misleading because how far they hit it - hitting 50 per cent of the fairways does not mean anything unless you're hitting it way out here. His misses have got smaller and even when he misses a fairway he's fine, he's in play.”
The American made an abysmal start to the season and did not break 70 for nine tournament rounds until he opened with a stunning 63 in the Los Angeles Open at Rivera Country Club last month.
The following day, Mickelson shot a one over par 72 and made an SOS call to Harmon, flying him in from Las Vegas for a remedial session. The result was a spectacular third round of 62. But in the final round, he went from five clear after an eagle at the first to two behind Steve Stricker with six to play and eventually had to finish birdie-birdie-par to successfully defend the title.
Yesterday, Mickelson raced to the turn in three under par, despite a bogey at the par-five 12th, before matchig those figures on the way home with the highlight a trademark chip birdie in at the seventh, his 16th.
Delighted with his play off the tee, Mickelson believes he has the driver that could give him his third green jacket at Augusta next month, explaining: “This is perfect for Augusta. This is the driver I'll be using at Augusta and I'll probably be using it the rest of the year, I'm hitting it so well.
“I knew heading into this week I was playing well, and I'm excited for this weekend, but more than that, I can feel my game really coming around for the Masters.”
Brian Keogh in Miami