CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Phil Mickelson never has won at Quail Hollow Club, but he has played the Wells Fargo Championship every year since 2004 and loves everything about the place. Eight times he has finished inside the top 10.
Coming off back-to-back missed cuts – the first time he’d done that since the early West Coast weeks of 2015 – Mickelson appeared to be back on his game on Thursday, when he played solidly and carded an opening 3-under 69. Could this be the year he finally breaks through in Charlotte?
“It keeps me coming back because I feel like it’s imminent,” Mickelson said. “I feel like I played well here so many times that I’ll continue to give myself chances on the weekend.”
A second-round 79 blew Mickelson out of last month’s Masters on Friday, and a first-round 77 at the Valero Texas Open two weeks ago pretty much did the same. The funny thing was, he said those two crazy rounds came on the heels of two of his best practice sessions of the year.
“I went home (after Texas) and had a great week of practice,” said Mickelson, who last year began working with Arizona instructor Andrew Getson. “In fact, I was hitting it a lot better this past week than I showed today, and I feel these next three days I can strike it a lot better.”
That said, his game was pretty buttoned-up on Thursday. He took care of the par 5s at Quail Hollow, making four birdies, including an incredible pitch to 1 foot at 15. One hole earlier, at the short par-4 14th, Mickelson ran in a 25-footer for birdie after having to hit his second from a bunker 87 yards short of the flagstick.
When he was runner-up at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2014, Mickelson, who turns 46 this summer, talked about a five-year plan that included competing at the Olympics. But he hasn’t been mentioned too much in the U.S. mix. Currently, there are four players from the U.S. among the top 8 in the world who would go to Rio: Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. Five other Americans – Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka and J.B. Holmes – also are ranked ahead of him. But Mickelson, ranked 20th, still thinks it’s possible that he could play his way to Brazil. He has some big starts – Players, Memorial, U.S. Open – that feature quality fields and lots of world rankings points in the coming weeks. And he looks forward to the hectic stretch of tournaments ahead.
“I actually really like it,” he said. “The way I see it that around the Olympics, if I can play well in the next two months and somehow get on the team, what a great opportunity to compete in the Olympics. And if I don’t, I’ve never had a three-week stretch of a break over the summer. So we’ll end up going on a family vacation. It’s a win-win.”