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Phil Mickelson's swing could come full circle

He is tied with Nick Watney for the third-round lead at Doral, where his adjustments began two years ago.

March 15, 2009|Randall Mell

DORAL, FLA. — The journey back from that disheartening U.S. Open defeat actually started here.

That's what would make Phil Mickelson's winning the CA Championship so poetic.

If Mickelson's revamped swing is everything he believes it is, if a victory today sets up a major-championship run that forever trumps the memory of his unraveling at Winged Foot in 2006, this is where history will remember the reconstruction beginning.

It was two years ago at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa that Mickelson first met with Butch Harmon to change his swing, an emotional decision because it meant leaving the tutelage of his longtime instructor and friend, Rick Smith.

Believing that all the hard work is finally coming together this week, Mickelson positioned himself Saturday to win his first World Golf Championship event and 36th PGA Tour title.

With a three-under-par 69, Mickelson is tied for the 54-hole lead with Nick Watney (67).

At 16-under 200, they are four shots ahead of India's Jeev Milkha Singh (68) and Colombia's Camilo Villegas (69) and five shots ahead of a pack of five players that includes Jim Furyk (69).

Tiger Woods shot 68 and is nine shots off the lead.

If Mickelson's swing holds up in a victory today, he can thank Harmon for all his help.

Then again, if he loses to Watney, he might want to kick Harmon in the shins.

Watney is also a student of Harmon's, one of just five players Harmon coaches. Harmon spent 30 minutes on the range with Mickelson before the round, just 10 minutes with Watney, a 27-year-old former Fresno State standout who's looking to become the only American in his 20s with three PGA Tour titles. Watney understands the pecking order.

"I would love to see them both come down the last hole tied for the lead and one of them birdies the last hole to win," Harmon said.

Mickelson's glowing with confidence this week. That's because he's even more certain of his swing than he was when he won the Northern Trust Open three weeks ago.

His famed short game is spot on, but what's really exciting him is how consistently long and straight he's driving the ball. Erratic driving has been his Achilles' heel under pressure. It's what cost him the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Though Mickelson has won three major championships, he has failed to contend in a major since knocking his final tee shot off a hospitality tent at Winged Foot three years ago.

"I feel like I'm playing without fear of a big miss," Mickelson said of the mighty swings he's putting on his Callaway FT-9 driver.

Harmon's focus has been shortening the swing Mickelson showed him two years ago.

"He's a completely different player than he was then," Harmon said. "His swing was long and across the line. He didn't hit the ball up into the air as well as he does now. He's totally different. He's always been a bit wild. He's always been a free swinger. That's just how he plays, but we've really worked hard to try and get his drives more in play, so he can still be aggressive."

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rmell@sunsentinel.com

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