Mickelson in bright spirits despite grey day

Mickelson in bright spirits despite grey day

Phil Mickelson has a dreadful Ryder Cup record.

But the man who has won 10, halved six and lost 14 of his Ryder Cup matches to date oozed optimism on a practice day of incessant rain at Celtic Manor.

On a day when others in the United States team were comparing sport with war, he was a man of peace, attempting to defuse any hint of animosity between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

He also painted the relationship between Woods and himself as something akin to ’buddies,’ the life and soul of the team room as they play ping-pong together every day.

He eulogised about the Welsh course as a perfect venue for matchplay golf. He even said the “weather was wonderful” and revealed that the big match would take place on Sunday night when he and Woods would settle their table-tennis competition with a best-of-five final.

Mickelson said: “We have just kind of practised with each other. We have hit it back and forth, but nothing fierce yet. Our competition is Sunday night. So far, just like the US team is holding the Ryder Cup, so am I in our little match.”

The matches that matter, however, have rarely been kind to Mickelson.

He is making his eighth appearance in the Ryder Cup this week, equalling the record shared by Billy Casper, Ray Floyd and Lanny Wadkins.

Yet he has never been on the winning side on European soil.

His fighting qualities are not in doubt. He has kept his game together through the worry of his wife Amy’s fight against cancer and she is due to fly in tomorrow in time for the opening ceremony.

He tackled the trauma of being diagnosed earlier this year with psoriatic arthritis, a condition where the immune system attacks the joints and tendons, with courage and composure and is now stable with medication.

And on Friday he is likely to be paired with Dustin Johnson, one of the biggest hitters on the US tour but not exactly one of their most high-profile players.

Asked whether there was the remotest chance of being paired with Woods in a re-enactment of the so-called ’dream team’ of 2004, Mickelson, with heavy sarcasm, said: “Oh, yeah, I think there’s a great chance. Why don’t you just hold your breath and we’ll see till Friday?”

We can take that as a no, especially considering they lost both their first day matches in 2004 and as Woods is almost certain to partner Steve Stricker. Mickelson, however, did attempt to pour cold water on those trying to fan the flames of a feud between Woods and Rory McIlroy.

When asked if there was animosity between the two, he said: “They get along great, are you kidding me? Rory is one of the nicest guys you can imagine. He’s one of the classiest guys on tour and Tiger gets along with just about everybody, usually because he beats them and he’s nice to them when he beats them.

“Rory is as classy a guy as there is. I’ve been paired with him a bunch and I really enjoy playing with him. The whole European team is built with a lot of classy character.”

Diplomatic. Charming. Mickelson does not do controversy.

But there is a passion for the Ryder Cup, a yearning to right that dreadful record, which should not be underestimated.

“Win or lose the Ryder Cup has been nothing but an incredibly positive experience,” said Mickelson.

“The US team has not played as well as we would have liked but we were able to pull off a win in the last Ryder Cup. We are currently holding the Ryder Cup. We brought it over here to show you what it looks like. We are going to be fighting hard to bring it home.”

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