SAN FRANCISCO -- Of the various storylines that have unfolded so far at Harding Park, one that shouldn't be overlooked is the buoying effect Phil Mickelson has had on his playing partners.
It began on Thursday, when Mickelson stirred Anthony Kim out of a lethargic start and the two rallied for a 3-and-2 opening win against Mike Weir and Tim Clark. A day later, after Justin Leonard's potentially devastating missed three-footer in own foursomes match, the two paired up for a convincing win over Retief Goosen and Adam Scott.
Then came this morning, with Mickelson teaming with the previously adrift Sean O'Hair for a 5-and-3 win over Retief Goosen and Camilo Villegas. Three matches, three successful reclamation projects. Too bad John Daly hasn't been hanging around Harding Park.
"I've played as well as I have in one of these events in a long time," said Mickelson, who is two weeks removed from his win in the Tour Championship. "It feels great to make some birdies and some putts."
But as well as Mickelson has played, more impressive is the Midas touch he has shown with his partners. No one needed it more than O'Hair. Having bypassed college in favor of turning pro, he had never played in a team competition before this week. And despite Michael Jordan's best efforts to pump him up earlier in the week, he had appeared out of his depth the first two days -- losing both matches and looking utterly uncomfortable in the process.
"Obviously this is the first time I've done this, so it took a little bit getting used to," said O'Hair, whose rolled in a crucial 24-footer to halve the 12th hole. "When you play bad and you're playing for yourself, you can just got to the range and the practice green and fix it. But this feels like you're letting your partner down."
Whatever the secret, Mickelson wouldn't allow that to happen. According to U.S. captain Fred Couples, it was the veteran who suggested the pairing for this morning. Mickelson said his reasoning was simple: even in losing, O'Hair had been striking the ball well, and he thought he'd be an effective partner. More likely, it was because Mickelson felt like he was in position to help.
Now with their morning point secured, the two will be anchoring the afternoon four-ball matches against Vijay Singh and Tim Clark. Knowing that was coming, Mickelson pulled O'Hair aside after their match, told him to rest up and be ready.
"You're playing great," Mickelson said.
O'Hair didn't bother to return the compliment. There was no point in stating the obvious.
-- *Sam Weinman
*(Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)