Dream team to second team: Mickelson's latest flop leads to benching

Saturday, September 18th 2004, 12:04 pm
By: News On 6

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) _ Phil Mickelson didn't look comfortable with his partner, his golf clubs or his opponents on the opening day of the Ryder Cup.

No doubt he'll look just as out of place Saturday _ on the bench.

In a span of 10 discouraging and exasperating hours, the Masters champion went from being on America's Ryder Cup Dream Team to being on the second team.

After Mickelson and Tiger Woods lost twice Friday during Europe's 6 1/2-1 1/2 rout, U.S. captain Hal Sutton split up his super twosome and sat down Mickelson for Saturday morning's better-ball matches.

Maybe it was the clubs, those new Callaways that Mickelson began using competitively only last week. Maybe it was the am-I-really-here look on his face, or his single-minded determination to ignore his teammates while being the only player on either team to practice by himself this week.

Sutton didn't offer any excuses for Mickelson's mostly miserable play in a 2-and-1 better-ball loss to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington or a 1-up loss to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood in alternate shots. In that match, Woods-Mickelson went from 3 up on No. 5 to 1 down on No. 11.

``It's not going to cause us any grief in the morning because he's going to be cheering instead of playing,'' Sutton said.

Appropriately enough, Mickelson and Woods sped off in their golf carts without talking to reporters. While their European opponents chatted on every hole and helped each other line up putts, Mickelson and Woods couldn't have talked less if they had been on opposite coasts.

The longer the day went on, the more out of sorts Woods and Mickelson looked with one other, too. When Mickelson's afternoon drive on No. 18 flew so far left it nearly went out of bounds, Woods couldn't have looked more disgusted.

``I let it slide on 18 with a poor tee shot after we pulled even and it basically cost us the match,'' said Mickelson, No. 2 on the PGA money list and No. 4 in the world rankings. ``So it's been a very disappointing day for me.''

Sutton excused Mickelson for choosing to skip team practices Wednesday and Thursday. Sutton also didn't ask Mickelson to go back to his Titleist clubs or balls when Mickelson unexpectedly switched gear earlier this month. On Friday, there were no excuses, period.

``I wouldn't have done it, but I'm not Phil Mickelson, and I'm not in his shoes,'' Sutton said.

Sutton didn't say when Mickelson would play again, though it seems implausible he would rest during the alternate shot matches Saturday afternoon.

``You know, what I see out there is too much tightness. I see Americans wanting to do too much,'' Sutton said. ``I see free wheeling by the Europeans.''

What nobody will see Saturday morning is Mickelson, who has lost his last nine matches in international team play. He lost his final two in the 2002 Ryder Cup before going 0-5 in last year's Presidents Cup.

``Nobody will beat up Phil Mickelson worse than Phil Mickelson tonight, I'll tell you that right now,'' Sutton said.

Beats being beaten up by the Europeans.