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Phil Mickelson 2009 PGA Championship
Phil Mickelson has found himself in some awkward positions this week at Hazeltine, such as this fairway bunker on the 10th hole Saturday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Putter continues to frustrate disappointed Mickelson

Only three times in his career has Phil Mickelson played the first 54 holes of a major championship as poorly as he did here at Hazeltine National. And after a pedestrian 76 Saturday, Lefty puts the blame squarely on his inconsistent putter.

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

CHASKA, Minn. -- The PGA Championship was one option. It's more likely, though, the TV in the house where Phil Mickelson is staying this week will be turned to NFL preseason football after he finishes practicing on Saturday.

"My Chargers play (Seattle) tonight," the San Diegan said. "The Vikings looked good last night, too. They're going to have a good year."

Besides, there was really no need for Mickelson to watch any of the season's final major. He's playing, but the 2005 PGA champ is four spots removed from dead last among those players who made the cut this week at Hazeltine.

Mickelson shot 76 on Saturday and has now played 54 holes in 8 over. He's only had a higher 54-hole total in three other majors -- 225 at the 1991 U.S. Open, 226 at the 2002 PGA and 230 at the 1998 British Open. The only good news? The 2002 PGA was played at Hazeltine and Mickelson came back with a 68.

Small solace, though, for the three-time major champion who had returned to competition last week with high hopes after taking six weeks off while his wife, Amy, and his mother had surgery for breast cancer.

Mickelson felt like he was hitting the ball well when he came to Akron but tied for 58th among 81 players at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. The PGA Championship is shaping up to be an even bigger disappointment.

"It's frustrating for me to not be in contention on the weekends of a major," Mickelson said. "That's the toughest thing. But also good motivation for me to work harder."

Mickelson said Hazeltine was user-friendly on Saturday -- at least early while the wind was relatively mellow and before the forecast rain arrived. But he only hit five fairways and nine greens. The flat stick stubbornly refused to cooperate again, too, and the 30 putts he took brought his total for the week to 97.

"There's some good low scores out there we saw guys shooting," Mickelson said. "I wasn't one of them, but they were out there. ... I didn't hit the ball very well today either but I didn't make very many putts, but it felt a little better.

"And I feel like after some sessions last night, I feel like I'm getting on the right track at least and hopefully I'll get it figured out here over the next week. I'll have a week off to get ready before The Barclays."

In retrospect, Mickelson acknowledged the layoff might have taken more of a toll than he thought. The most important thing now, though, is to get that new putting stroke grooved so he can be a factor in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. Mickelson ranked fifth in the standings heading into the PGA Championship.

"I think the biggest issue for me is I've got to get this putter straightened out," Mickelson said. "I've got to get confident on the greens. I've got to start seeing the lines better, get my speed better. Get the ball rolling better. Because if you get the ball in the hole, everything else falls into place."

And given the year that Mickelson has had, it would be nice for something to fall into place. He's won twice, but has only played four events since he and Amy announced in May that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Among the tournaments he missed was the 138th Open Championship, but Mickelson finished fifth at the Masters and tied for second at the U.S. Open.

Both his wife and mother have received favorable reports from their surgery, though, and Mickelson has said he is looking forward to the rest of the season -- similarly to the way he anticipates the start of each year.

"My expectations are high," Mickelson said. "I'm disappointed with my performance this week, regardless of what's going on or off the course, I still have high expectations.

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