NORTON — After David Hearn and Cameron Tringale ripped clean tee shots off the day-ending ninth hole, the two chased their balls straight down the fairway.
The third member of their group took a different trajectory.
Mickelson’s 290-yard drive veered off course and plunked into the rough to the right of the fairway. By the time Mickelson arrived, a ring of fans had encircled the ball. One of those observers did not impress the ball’s owner.
“At least put it on silent,” Mickelson said with frustration to a phone-wielding watcher.
With that, Mickelson shook off the intrusion, launched his second shot out of the weeds, and sailed it over a sand trap. The ball landed just off the green, 25 feet from the pin.
The birdie Mickelson hoped to make, however, stopped 2 feet short of the hole.
It has been that kind of peaks-and-valleys season for Mickelson.
“I played well,” said Mickelson, who finished with a 1-under-par 70 (three birdies, two bogeys). “I hit a lot of good shots. My bad ones weren’t too bad. It was fine.”
Historically, to be tied for 26th place after Round 1 of the Deutsche Bank Championship is not where Mickelson is used to being.
The 45-year-old Mickelson is one of the PGA Tour’s flagship players. He has 42 career wins and more than $77 million in earnings. He is riding a 20-year run of stars-and-stripes swinging in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
That streak could end soon.
Only the top 10 players qualify automatically for the Presidents Cup team. Mickelson is No. 52 in the standings. He cannot crack the top 10 even if he wins the Deutsche Bank Championship. To stretch his streak to 21 years, Mickelson would require a captain’s pick.
So far, his play has not guaranteed that captain Jay Haas will use one of his two selections on Mickelson when he makes his decision on Tuesday. The Presidents Cup is Oct. 8-11 in South Korea.
“I know with all the young guys on the team, he would very much like to have me on it,” Mickelson said. “Jim Furyk is one of the guys who’s really been on these teams to keep things good with the team.
“I would love to be on the team. But I have to be able to contribute my game. As close as I feel that I am, the only thing that matters in golf is your score, what you shoot. So we’ll see.”
Wins that once seemed routine for Mickelson are now hard to find. He last finished atop the leaderboard in 2013 when he won the British Open. Last year, he posted just one top 10. This season, Mickelson finished second at the Masters, third at the FedEx St. Jude Cup, and fourth at the Wells Fargo Championship.
They are not the results he expected.
“I really thought this was going to be a strong year for me,” Mickelson said. “I’m really disappointed with the way it’s played out. I thought with some of the offseason work, it was going to be a good year.
“When I look at my golf swing, where it was in January, it’s very disappointing for me to see how far off plane it’s gotten. It’s been a lot of work these past few months to try and get it back on plane.
“I’ve seen glimpses of it with a really good shot. But because it’s been two years of bad habits, it’s taken a while longer to let it set in. Which is why today, I was happy my misses weren’t too bad. It tells me it’s getting more and more consistent.”
Mickelson does not care for a sympathy pick when Haas makes his final selections. He wants to earn his spot on the American team. If so, Mickelson wants to play, and play well.
But Mickelson is experienced enough to acknowledge that not playing after making the team is no fun for anybody, especially an up-and-comer. Mickelson learned this the hard way in last year’s Ryder Cup, when captain Tom Watson told him to take a seat for one day.
This October, if Mickelson gets the call from Haas, he said he’d volunteer to keep his bag in the clubhouse to support any of his teammates.
“One of the hardest things for guys is when you play well and get on the team, then you’re told you can’t play, you’ve got to sit,” Mickelson said. “That’s very discouraging, especially when you’re on a team for the first time.
“If I were to make it, hopefully I play well enough to contribute. I also would be the first one to volunteer to cheer the guys on and make sure the young guys have a chance to play early and the young guys have a chance to experience that team environment.”