Phil Mickelson – can he become the oldest to win a major title? Photo Darren Carroll PGA of America
Six of the eight Australians playing this week’s PGA Championship have advanced to the weekend but two of their more credentialed players have missed out.
Marc Leishman and Adam Scott finished the opening 36 holes of the event one shot beyond the required 5 over par and will sit out the final stages of the event, Leishman, in particular, having every reason to feel gutted after a double bogey, bogey finish saw him miss the chance to advance his cause.
Cameron Smith took over as the leading Australian after his round of 73 has him at 1 over and six shots from the halfway lead held by South African Louis Oosthuizen and the remarkable Phil Mickelson.
Smith made the turn after the demanding opening nine stretch (he started at the 10th today) in a respectable one over but was unable to take advantage of the opportunities the relatively easier front nine of the Ocean Course offered.
Smith is tied for 25th but he will still feel that two solid rounds could open the door to a very high finish on a golf course which is not allowing anyone to take control.
“I think it’s going to be really tricky on the weekend,” said Smith aware of the demands the field will face over the final 36 holes.
“I don’t think the course is going to get any easier. So just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep missing in the right places I think around here is a big one, and yeah, just hope for the best. Hopefully some putts go in.
“It’s been real tough (thus far). It’s probably the two hardest condition days I think I’ve seen, to be honest. Maybe a few days around Augusta here and there, the British Open can get windy and wet, as we all know, but no, pretty tough stuff.
“I mean, a score is still out there, which I love. I think the course has been set up really nice. It’s just you’ve got to kind of get lucky with those longer putts to go in.”
Cameron Davis excelled on day one with his opening round of 69 but today it was a different story, although he can take some pride and solace in that he was able to recover from an opening double bogey and a near disastrous triple bogey at his 11th hole to finish with 78 and at 3 over for the tournament.
To have played the final eight holes of his very demanding opening nine (he started at the 10th) and then, after dropping five shots in three holes around the turn, played his last seven holes in even par was very encouraging.
Davis is in a share of 39th place and eight shots from the lead in just his second major championship.
Lucas Herbert could have been forgiven for thinking his tournament was on shaky grounds after his opening round of 76 but with five birdies in his first eleven holes on day two he had worked his way well inside the cut line and to even par for the tournament.
He would fall victim to the demands of the final stretch of holes with four bogeys in his final seven but it was an impressive comeback all the same.
“I just feel like I’ve just gotten out of a fight and I’ve won,” said Herbert. “Looks like I’ll probably make the cut. Yeah, I feel like I’ve had a win.”
Herbert had an unsettling start to the day even before he got on the golf course.
“It’s kind of a funny story with today. I turned up in some casual clothes to do some sort of warmups and whatnot, and I got to the golf course and realized I left my golf clothes at home. So I had my friend drive back and get them and bring them back.
“So I missed basically half of my warmup. And I got on the range straight back into the wind, and I think I hit about four 2-irons in a row over the left fence. So I Face-Timed my coach (in Australia) with like nine minutes till my tee time going, how do I fix this?
“There’s something really, really wrong. How do I fix this? It was like, we just had a laugh because it can’t get any worse. This is going to be a fun day. We’re going to be shouting fore left a lot. And then, all of a sudden, I’m out there hitting — I really don’t think I missed a shot through the first 13 holes. It was kind of funny really, that it sort of all came from that.”
Matt Jones and Jason Scrivener are also at 4 over, Jason Day, after a double bogey at his 12th hole, played his last six in 1 under to make the cut on the number while Leishman and Scott are heading home.
The leaders Oosthuizen and Mickelson played at opposite ends of the draw, Mickelson at the age of 50 defying logic and recent form to some extent to grab the outright lead when he finished his round some six hours ahead of Oosthuizen.
Mickelson’s stunning homeward nine of 31 saw his fans enthusing over what might be. If he was to win this week he would become the oldest person after Julius Boros (age 48) to win a major.
“It’s really fun, obviously, to make a putt on the last hole, finish a round like that and then to have that type of support here has been pretty special. But it’s been a lot of fun so far,” he said.
Mickelson’s change in pre-shot routine is noticeable as he spends more time focusing ahead of the shot.
“I’m just making more and more progress just by trying to elongate my focus. I might try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much.
“I might try to elongate the time that I end up meditating, but I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it because as I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.
“Physically I feel like I’m able to perform and hit the shots that I’ve hit throughout my career, and I feel like I can do it every bit as well as I have, but I’ve got to have that clear picture and focus.”
Oosthuizen already has a major to his name, that coming at the 2010 Open Championship where he blitzed the field by seven shots at St Andrews.
“I did a bit of work last week with my coach and just sort of got a feeling in my swing back from a long time ago and started driving it again this week like the way I know I can hit a driver. That made my longer irons and my ball-striking a lot better.
“I’ve worked really hard on my putting especially and feel like that’s probably the best I’ve rolled it in a long time, so it’s great to know that the driver swing and the long iron swing is back, especially in these conditions. I just need to stay in it this weekend and try not to play myself out of it tomorrow.”
Louis Oosthuizen – in action today – photo PGA of America Darren Carroll