<
>

If the U.S. wants to win the Ryder Cup, it needs to bench Phil Mickelson

play
Phil's poor performance leads to rout for Europe (0:33)

Phil Mickelson hits water with his tee shot on the third hole. Later in the match, Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren capture the point on the 14th hole. (0:33)

PARIS -- Phil Mickelson stood next to the 14th green on Friday, holding hands with his wife, Amy, and looking like he'd just seen a ghost. How did he end up here again, on the wrong side of a Ryder Cup thrashing? Wasn't this supposed to be a thing of the past? Hadn't he put his reputation on the line in Scotland four years ago, blurted out exactly what needed to be said, precisely to avoid suffering through another scene like this?

Hazeltine was supposed to be an exorcism.

But it turns out, the Ryder Cup isn't done tormenting Mickelson yet.

No, it wasn't all Mickelson's fault that the United States got roasted on Friday, when the Americans turned a morning 3-1 lead into a disappointing 5-3 afternoon deficit. But it was easy to see him, yet again, as the face of another American meltdown. He and Bryson DeChambeau were on the wrong end of an ugly 5-and-4 loss to Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren, a match that was part of the first-ever European sweep in foursomes, and now it might be time for Mickelson to play the role of cheerleader for a day.

What else can you do with a notoriously wild player on a course like Le Golf National, where water and thick, pernicious rough loom on nearly every shot?

United States captain Jim Furyk is clearly in a bind with Mickelson, but also one of his own making, since it was his decision to add Mickelson as a captain's pick even though he hasn't played well in recent months. Furyk wanted to use his best players early on Friday in four-ball, and that seemed like the brilliant gamble out of the gate.

But what, then, to do with Mickelson? Sit him for the entire day? Rumors swirled throughout the morning that Furyk was contemplating exactly that, but he ultimately sent Mickelson out for alternate shot with DeChambeau.

It scarcely could have gone worse. The duo bogeyed three of the first five holes, didn't make a birdie on the front nine, and was a jaw-dropping 7 down at the turn to Garcia and Noren. A minor rally cut the U.S. deficit to 5 down at one point, but it ended with a whimper on the 14th green.

In fairness to Mickelson and DeChambeau, Garcia and Noren played suffocating, sensational golf at times, making five birdies en route to building their big lead. But most of the holes early weren't even competitive. It got particularly ugly on the third hole, a 558-yard par-5, when Mickelson tried to play conservatively off the tee with an iron -- and yanked his shot into the water anyway.

"We thought that this would be a good format for us, hitting a bunch of irons off tees," Mickelson said. "We just didn't play our best. They played phenomenal golf, and I'm not trying to take it away from them. We just weren't our best either."

It's time for Furyk to make a call that might be controversial, but it should still happen. He needs to bench Mickelson until Sunday singles.

Any match he's playing in Saturday afternoon takes away an opportunity from a sharper, younger player. (Furyk has already said Mickelson won't play Saturday morning in four-ball.) It might even annoy Mickelson a little to sit the entire day, spark something deep down in his competitive bones that gets him ready for singles. He has been a staple of this team for two decades and has played well in the past two Ryder Cups, but it's also hard to argue with the facts: He and DeChambeau's loss at Le Golf National means he now has more career losses (21) than any other player in Ryder Cup history.

Right now, it would seem borderline criminal if Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau or Tiger Woods missed another session because Furyk wanted to give Mickelson another chance in a format he just doesn't seem suited for.

"I have so much confidence in Phil in his ability to take a young player like Bryson and help him out," Furyk said. "It's Phil Mickelson. He's a major champion. He's got a lot of experience. I'll be honest, I'd do it again."

Mickelson has always been an easy target for criticism, particularly in this event. He and Woods have been the Batman and Robin of American golf for a long time (you can probably figure out which is which in that analogy), and because the Americans haven't won in Europe in 25 years, someone had to bear the brunt of the blame, and it makes sense it would be them.

Whatever you think of Mickelson as a player, he has always been a well-liked teammate, an enthusiastic advocate for his fellow Americans. Some of that was on display Friday, as he hung around the 14th green after he and DeChambeau were defeated to offer words of encouragement to Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He talked some strategy with Patrick Reed, with assistant captain Zach Johnson, and sought out Thomas Bjorn to shake his hand when the day's matches were over.

Mickelson has always been without peer on a golf course at those kinds of things, the social graces, the working the room, the tipping of his cap, forming friendly bonds that seem both calculating and genuine, depending on whom he's talking to. You could sense he was soaking in the scene around him as European fans began singing and clapping, and he pulled his wife close to try to shake off the stench of disappointment.

He's going to be in charge of an American squad fairly soon. We're entering the twilight of his Ryder Cup career. He may not be ready to slip into the role of captain just yet, but if he really believed in the idea of putting team above all else, he could concede that his game just isn't sharp this week. He could take some heat off of Furyk with a gesture of selflessness and walk the course wearing an earpiece, spraying words of encouragement on Saturday instead of wayward drives.