ATLANTA, Ga.—The math is simple.

Phil Mickelson has won two Tour Championships in 20-plus years on the PGA Tour. He has played on two winning Ryder Cup teams during that same time.

“Not to diminish this tournament,” Mickelson said after his second round Friday at East Lake, “but I’d rather win next week. For me at this stage of my career, that means a little more. I’d like to be part of a third winning team.”


So you’ve heard of players using the week before the Masters Tournament, say, to get used to hitting the shots they’ll need at Augusta instead of necessarily trying to win the event that week? That’s what Mickelson did this week at East Lake Golf Club.

A visit to Hazeltine National, site of next week’s Ryder Cup, by members of the U.S. squad was an eye-opener for Mickelson. He had given up the traditional shaft he puts in his drivers this season in place of one that was an inch-and-a-half shorter in hopes of hitting more fairways.

“When I got to Hazeltine and saw how long it was, I knew I needed to add some distance,” Mickelson said.

Out came the new shaft, in came the old shaft. Well, another version of the old shaft on Thursday. After a dismal performance in which he hit only one of 14 fairways in the Tour Championship’s opening round, he hit five fairways on Friday. His score was incrementally better, 72 versus Thursday’s 74, but he was exponentially happier.

“I was concerned yesterday, I’m not now,” Mickelson said. “I was experimenting with three different ones trying to get the right setting. Yesterday, the first one didn’t work out. This one did. Today was the one I’m going to end up going with.? I drove it great on the back nine. I hit cuts like I did in 2004 when I drove it well and they were soft cuts I was able to swing it to the target and the ball went there. It was great.”

The great thing about Phil is his positive outlook and when he is enthused, as he often is, that enthusiasm is contagious. So he’s not in the top 20 at the Tour Championship? Well, give him credit for caring about the Ryder Cup. That’s what we want, isn’t it? Players who are passionate about that event?

Phil and Tiger Woods took some hits on that topic over the years. Phil took some more two years ago, including some from me, about going public with his Tom Watson captaincy issues during the team’s post-match press conference. I couldn’t disagree with his assessment of how the team and the pairings were handled — I wasn’t behind those closed doors — but I did disagree that he let it loose in front of the world.

Phil is a scientist. He approaches the game as a science, and in many ways that’s what it is. Dave Pelz, one of his putting coaches, is a former rocket scientist himself. Some have wondered about Phil’s approach to majors, scouting out the greens and spending an entire day on a course chipping and putting to different potential pin positions.

It’s simple science, trial and error, the same an inventor makes a breakthrough, by trying and failing in combinations until he finally hit on the right one. [/restrict]