Phil Mickelson has five straight birdies on Fortinet back nine, still not satisfied

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Phil Mickelson had just rolled in five consecutive birdie putts late in Saturday’s third round of the Fortinet Championship. His 5-under 67 had moved him inside the top 10, just four shots off the lead heading into Sunday’s finish in Napa, California.

Yet, the 51-year-old wasn’t fully content with his putting.

Instead of exiting scoring and heading to the flash area for post-round interviews, Mickelson went straight to the practice green. Missed 5-footers that resulted in bogeys, at Nos. 7 and 12, lingered in his mind.

“I just got on the [Pelz] Tutor for a minute,” Mickelson said after eventually making his way to the reporters. “I felt like I blocked a couple putts. I blocked two short ones … and I just wanted to work on that. So, I feel like I was a little long in the stroke and kind of came up and out of it. If I keep it short and up, I can release into the finish and get the ball rolling on line.”

Despite his need to improve, Mickelson has continued to make strides on the greens this week at Silverado. He ranked sixth in strokes gained: putting on Saturday, up from 38th on Day 1 and 21st on Day 2. He rolled in 123 feet worth of putts in Round 3, more than 40 feet than he averaged through 36 holes. About half of that total came on birdies on Nos. 13-17, including a 24-footer at the par-4 17th hole.

Full-field scores from the Fortinet Championship

After his bogey on No. 12, Mickelson changed his mentality on the greens, which paid off in his hot stretch.

“I just felt like I had been putting really well all week and I just needed to settle down and let one go in, not force it,” he said. “I needed to get a couple of fairways hit because so much easier from the fairways getting to these pins. I just rolled a couple in, so it was nice.”

About six weeks ago, Mickelson started playing with an extension grip on his putter that goes up to his right forearm and he plans to keep rolling with that style of putting. He might’ve won the PGA Championship in May, but he notched just two other top-10s since the start of the 2019-20 season. 

“For a while, yeah, because it’s how I putted as a kid,” Mickelson said. “Like I always had a lot of forward press and all it’s doing now is getting in the same position as a kid, but it’s getting to that same position every time. I’m not overpressing, I’m not underpressing, so my launch characteristics when I get on the Quintic system is very consistent and that’s what I’m looking for.”

Phil Mickelson in contention after strong back-nine

Max Homa, who Mickelson played with during his third round in Napa, would agree that Lefty has found a spark with the putter. 

“He putted nice, he’s putting good,” said Homa, who is two shots off the lead held by Mav McNealy and Jim Knous.” He’s hitting it a little straighter. You know, he holed some really good putts. Got on a run on that back nine, so it was cool. It’s always fun playing with a legend, you get to watch him just will that ball in the hole sometimes.”

However, the way Homa sprung up the leaderboard on Saturday, Mickelson may have had a different opinion about playing with his fellow Southern California native. 

“Then Max, playing as well as he did shooting 6 under on the back, made my round feel not as great, but it was still fun,” Mickelson said.

With 18 holes left for Mickelson in 2021 – he said earlier this week he didn’t plan to play another event this fall – he is firmly in contention entering the final round in Napa Valley.

And he has hit flatstick to thank; it just can always be better.