AUSTIN, Texas — It remains a flavorful slice of pro golf, competitors going up against kids half their age. But to put Thursday’s Phil Mickelson vs. Daniel Berger WGC-Dell Match Play game in perspective, consider this:
On the day Berger was born — April 7, 1993 — Mickelson was at Augusta National, playing in the Par 3 Contest as part of his final day of preparation before his first Masters as a professional.
Fast forward 23 years and Mickelson is weeks away from his 24th Masters, while Berger will be there for the first time.
Ah, but first things first. The 45-year-old Mickelson and 22-year-old Berger tangled in a second-round game at Austin Country Club that is not likely to be saved for posterity and shipped to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“We didn’t play very well,” Mickelson said. It was an understatement of epic proportions.
Fact is, Mickelson was so off his game that minutes after he walked away from the 18th hole as a 1-up winner, he turned to swing coach Andrew Getson and said there would “be a session” on the range.
How “off” was Lefty? He made but two birdies, both on the front, and was 3 over on his eight holes coming in. The fact that he played so poorly and still won is testimony to how shakily Berger played.
Indeed, the second-year PGA Tour member went without a birdie and hung in till the 18th hole only because he made a series of 10- and 12-footers to save par and Mickelson handed over the 13th and 15th holes with bad mistakes.
“I’ve got to get better to win these (types) of matches,” Berger said.
Berger, crazy as it seems given how poorly he played, did have a chance for at least a half-point because he was all square on the 18th tee. He snap-hooked his tee shot, however, and his ball came to rest near a wall of rocks at the 10th tee, well wide of the 18th fairway.
When Berger on his downswing hit the rocks, he immediately shook his left wrist. He missed the ball, but it didn’t matter; Berger signaled to Mickelson that he was conceding the match.
Though Mickelson improved to 2-0 and will meet Patrick Reed Friday for the Group 9 title and a trip to the Sweet 16, the left-hander didn’t feel great about things. First, he was concerned about Berger’s wrist. Then, he thought of drives that were sprayed wide, approach shots that missed greens and putts inside of 10 feet that never found the hole. He declared that he was off to the range.
“I’ve got to bring a lot better golf to the course tomorrow,” Mickelson said of his Friday game against Reed, also 2-0. Mickelson said he won Thursday with a lot of hiccups, “but tomorrow there’s no opportunity for a blemish.”
Mickelson’s second birdie of the day, a 12-footer at the par-4 ninth, provided a 1-up lead into the back, but the match — already scratchy — quickly turned flat-out ugly. At 13, Mickelson “blocked it” badly off the tee, “just a terrible shot,” and when he found water the game was all square. However, Berger couldn’t stand the charity; he three-putted 14 to go back down by a hole. Mickelson then missed a 2 1/2-footer at 15 to square the match, and after scrambling pars for both men at 16 and 17, things got even uglier at 18.
For Berger, that is, his whiff of a shot, the crash of golf club into rock, the shake of the wrist.
“I just hope he’s all right,” Mickelson said.
And next, the lefth-ander is hoping the same for his own game.