Mickelson left stunned after early Open exit

PERPLEXED: Phil Mickelson hangs his head as he walks off a tee box.
PERPLEXED: Phil Mickelson hangs his head as he walks off a tee box.

Phil Mickelson left the British Open perplexed about the state of his game. More surprising is that he left today.

The four-time major champion hit into bunkers and into the high grass. He hit a spectator and nearly drilled a photographer who was crouched in the line of his shot about 20 yards away. He wound up with a 78, and missed the cut in a major for the first in five years, dating to Carnoustie in 2007.

His 18 straight cuts in the majors had been the longest current streak.

''I don't know what to say,'' Mickelson said, a phrase he repeated a half-dozen times in an interview that ended when there was really nothing left to ask.

Most aggravating for Lefty is that he doesn't feel that far off.

He worked on his ball position with swing coach Butch Harmon on Thursday after opening with a 73 and was hopeful of turning it around.

But it went the other way in a hurry. His approach to the par-4 sixth was slightly to the right and tumbled down into a pot bunker, and the best he could do was to blast out to 15 feet.

His par putt narrowly missed, and the 2-footer that followed did a 360-degree circle around the cup for double bogey.

On the next hole, he pushed his drive to the left and beaned a spectator.

With a reasonable lie, three photographers tried to capture the shot.

Instead of asking them to move, Mickelson ignored them and his shot went about 3 feet over one photographer's head.

The sure sign of a struggle came on the 10th hole.

He tapped in a 2-footer for par using a saw putting grip - rest the club between the left thumb and four fingers.

On the 11th tee, putter in hand, he continued to practice the stroke that Mark O'Meara used in his later years, and at one point asked if he were allowed to actually putt a golf ball on the teeing ground.

Alas, it was just a drill.

''That was just for my hands to quiet down,'' Mickelson said. ''I wasn't going to use it.''

But he'll have to figure something out, the sooner the better.

Mickelson hasn't been the same since nearly overcoming two triple bogeys at the Masters and still having a chance to win on Sunday.

He went nearly two months without breaking 70, which included a WD at Memorial because of ''mental fatigue'' and a missed cut at the Greenbrier.

He next plays the Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks, followed by the final major of the year, the PGA Championship. He said his health was not an issue.

''I'm fine,'' he said. ''I don't know what to say about my play. I'll work with Butch this week and see if I can get some direction in my play and see if I can get myself into a better frame of mind heading into these next two months, because we've got some big tournaments coming up. I've got a lot work to do these next 10 days. It's just a little frustrating for me.''