Mickelson, Gardiner share spotlight
Phil Mickelson stole some of the luster from Scott Gardiner’s feel good story.
Gardiner, a 37-year-old rookie for Australia, was the surprising leader of the Wells Fargo Championship after the morning rounds had been completed on Friday. Mickelson then came along playing some of his best golf and shot a 5-under 67 for a 133 total and a 2-shot lead over Gardiner, Nick Watney and George McNeill, another lesser known like Gardiner.
Mickelson’s play was not unexpected given that he is ranked 11th in the world, has won four majors and 41 PGA Tour events. He started off with two birdies, made two more to make the turn at 4-under and then made a change at the 11th hole that he claims might serve as a key if he wins at the Quail Hollow club for the first time.
“The first 28 holes (of the tournament) I hadn’t driven the ball very well, which some people might not find very surprising,” said Mickelson, referring to his wildness off the tee at times. “Before I came here, I was driving the ball phenomenal. After the 11th hole, I made a slight alignment adjustment and I got back to driving it as well as I’ve been driving it. I think if I drive it that well, it’s going to be a fun weekend, I fully expect it.”
Shortly after the adjustment, he made a bogey on 12. But, he got that shot back with a birdie after pitching out of a sand trap on 14 and then made a short birdie putt on the par-5 15th.
As well as Mickelson likes how he is driving the ball, he couldn’t be much better on the greens, having sunk 31 of 31 putts from inside 10 feet. His putting was such that he didn’t feel he missed a putt that he should have made.
“I made a lot of putts that weren’t gimmies,” Mickelson said. “I got a lot out of the round today, I have to drive it better to be more aggressive to shoot lower because I’m getting all out of the round that I can.”
Gardiner was as shocked at anybody that he moved near the top of the leaderboard.
“Have you seen my resume this year?” Gardiner said as he let out a nervous chuckle about missing the cut in nine of his 12 starts.
The Aussie’s biggest claim on the PGA Tour is that he is the first player of aboriginal decent to earn his PGA Tour card, which happened when he finished 15th in money winnings on the web.com Tour last season.
In his career as a pro since 2001, he has two notable victories, one on the European Tour and one win in 199 starts from 2003 through last year as a web.com Tour regular.
The son of elementary school teachers didn’t start playing much until he was 13. He didn’t go to college and in his media guide biography says he might be stacking shelves if he wasn’t playing golf.
He hasn’t minded the struggles.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” Gardiner said.
While traveling the web.com circuit, he met his wife at a cover-band concert during a tournament week in Fort Smith, Ark.
He’s lived in Arkansas since 2007 and plays out of the Blessings Golf Club, which is owned by John Tyson of the Tyson chicken company and is where the University of Arkansas golf team practices. Gardiner has become a big Razorbacks fan but won’t attempt the Pig-Sooie call.
“I’ve been shown it but I’m not going to,” Gardiner said. “I’ll support them in my own way.”
As a PGA Tour pro, he hasn’t done much to give anyone much to cheer about.
He got off to a good start, finishing in a tie for 15th in the season-opening Sony Open in Hawaii.
“I got a false impression,” Gardiner said. “These guys are good.”
He made the cut in two of the next three tournaments. Since then, he’s suffered eight straight missed cuts.
He came into the week 163rd on the money list, 170th in FedEx Cup standings and in need of getting his game back on track. He got a tip from former Tour player Dave Stockton on Monday and Tuesday, after running into him in the locker room.
Gardiner said he tried to get his swing back to where it was a couple of years ago.
“It’s turned out well so far,” Gardiner said. “It’s given me some structure, which I didn’t have. When you are lacking in confidence, structure is something that helps you.”
He gained enough confidence to past five birdies on the front nine and play par golf on the back nine to fire a 5-under-par 67 to go to 7-under for the tournament.
“I saved some shots,” Gardiner said the turnaround. “I haven’t putted or chipped well all year, that’s a big turnaround.”
That’s certainly different than what he expected this week.
“Agony,” he said in another bit of self-deprecating humor.
Now, he’ll play among the best in the world today.
It’s a lot better than stacking shelves.