Friday 19 December 2014

Birdie blitz for 'streaky' Phil a boost for Valhalla

William S Callahan

Published 04/08/2014 | 02:30

Phil Mickelson posted an eight-under 62  in the Bridgestone Invitational ahead of the US PGA. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Phil Mickelson posted an eight-under 62 in the Bridgestone Invitational ahead of the US PGA. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell picked-up a major boost yesterday before heading for Valhalla and this week's US PGA.

Mickelson at last shrugged off a nasty strep-throat infection to post a sensational eight-under 62 in the Bridgestone Invitational, his best round of the season, to clinch only his second sub-par finish in 12 years at Firestone.

After complaining on Saturday that his short irons and wedge play "have been pathetic" this season and bemoaning how few birdies he'd landed, Mickelson made a whopping 10 yesterday after hitting just 11 greens in regulation.

It was the fillip the 44-year-old needed. "I hit the ball very close with a lot of iron shots and it's really good to be going to Valhalla feeling like I have momentum instead of searching for something.

"I am a momentum player," he added. "If I get it going, usually I can keep it up for a stretch. I came here feeling confident after the Scottish and British Opens but the first two rounds (71 and 73) really threw me off.

"Now the game is starting to click and I'm hoping I can have four good rounds at Valhalla instead of just one."

Mickelson won in Akron in 1996 and had eight straight top-10s here, but this year's five-under aggregate was his only sub-par finish on the South Course since he tied fourth in 2008.

COMFORTABLE

In contrast, McDowell's never looked as comfortable at Firestone as he did over the past weekend.

As he followed-up on Saturday's career-best 66 here with a fabulous bump-and-run for eagle at the second yestereday, the Portrush native appeared well on course for his first top-20 finish in this event.

McDowell made an impressive Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla in 2008 and relishes this week's return.

"Changes have been made to the golf course and, obviously, it's going to be a different set-up from 2008. Yet from what I hear, it's not going to be the longest course in the world which makes me happy for sure.

"These slug-fest Major Championships kind of get old. So nice to play what sounds like it might be a positional type golf course. I'm looking forward to it."

Nobody is looking forward to this week more than Open Champion Rory McIlroy, whose prospects of claiming a first World Golf Championship title soared as he overtook Sergio Garcia inside three holes yesterday and led by two through five.

McIlroy had lunch with Garcia before the storm-delayed final round, then devoured the cagey-looking Spaniard's three shot overnight lead for afters.

The Holywood star opened with three straight birdies and landed another at five as Garcia made a slipshod bogey on the third.

Padraig Harrington, the last player to win back-to-back at the Majors in 2008, had three birdies and a double-bogey on his card as he added a meagre three points to his final haul of 22 at The Barracuda Championship to finish inside the top-50 at Montreux, just outside Reno, Nevada.

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