Mickelson, Bradley pairing ready for second act

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Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley both admit they bring out the best in each other.

DUBLIN, Ohio -- At some point, Keegan Bradley will have another playmate. He won't always have Phil Mickelson by his side to mess with or confide in or lean on. Phil is 43; Keegan is 27. Sadly, their age difference creates an expiration date to their partnership.

Who knows, maybe this dynamic duo doesn't even make it to the end of this week's Presidents Cup.

On Thursday, they take on Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen in an intriguing Four-Ball match at Muirfield Village. Is it conceivable for the South African friends, both with major credentials to their resumes, to rise up and pull off the upset? Is it conceivable that Mickelson and Bradley get their confidence rattled a bit and struggle to reclaim it?

Sure it is. And what if the U.S. Team falls behind by an alarming margin, forcing Captain Fred Couples to take drastic measures. Would anything be as drastic as breaking up the Mickelson-Bradley partnership?

Well, yes, one thing would be -- putting Mickelson and Tiger Woods together. Don't salivate too long over that possibility, though. Not gonna happen.

For now, the facts are these: Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson not only were unbeatable a year ago at the Ryder Cup, they looked like the best pairing in American golf since Arnold Palmer poured lemonade in his iced tea. Not only did they win all three of their matches, they thrashed the venerable English duo of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood to the tune of 7 and 6 in Saturday morning Foursomes. Moaned Donald: "They did nothing wrong."

Only time they were stopped at Medinah was by their own hand, sitting out the afternoon Four-Ball while resting up for the singles matches the next day - a course of action now known as Strategy Backfiring.

Now they're back, these cross-country buddies, the distinguished lefty from Southern California and the stink-eyed lad from the Northeast. Will they recreate their magic at Muirfield? The Americans are counting on it. Bradley and Mickelson are expecting it.

"Keegan and I are playing well," Mickelson said. "We're ready for it and we seem to bring out the best in each other."

Why is that? An obvious reason is that both are aggressive players, more willing to take risks in hopes of the high reward. In individual stroke-play events, that kind of approach can result in dropping multiple shots quickly. But in team competition, one bad hole is not as difficult to overcome.

Bradley even feels more aggressive than usual in Foursomes. In that alternate-shot approach, you want to avoid leaving your partner with a bad lie or longish par putt. But Mickelson has told Bradley to keep the throttle full-on and don't worry about the consequences.

"Phil wants me firing at pins, hitting putts as hard as I can," Bradley said. "He's very adamant about how he's going to make every one coming back."

Mickelson also makes Bradley feel more comfortable by playing Bradley's Srixon Z-Star ball instead of his own Callaway model in Foursomes. Partners have the option of alternating balls on each hole, and many twosomes will do just that this week. Not these guys, though.

"Helps me out a lot," Bradley admitted.

So Bradley gets the benefit of playing with a Hall of Famer. What does Mickelson get?

Certainly he sees a kindred spirit, a guy who can take the ribbing and dish it out in equal measures. He sees a guy with immense talent who embraces and thrives under pressure. He sees a guy who isn't afraid to make a mistake if there's an opportunity to produce a big moment.

He sees a player who isn't intimidated, certainly not by Mickelson's own stature. You get the sense that Phil enjoyed watching Keegan make their birdie putt on the 72nd hole at the 2012 Northern Trust Open almost as much as he did his own 25-footer fall seconds earlier.

Mickelson enjoys taking young players under his wing. It's doubtful he enjoys any of them more than Bradley. Maybe you remember what Mickelson said of Bradley a year ago while they kept trouncing their European foes: "I love, love playing with this man. He's just so fun."

Well, the fun is back. Mickelson-Bradley Act II. But camaradarie and chemistry sometimes only lasts as long as your most recent success.

They can't rely on what they did at Medinah a year ago. Thursday offers a new challenge, and the International Team will be hungry to make an opening statement. Nothing would send a message as loud as a Schwartzel-Oosthuizen win.

Heck, the South Africans already look ready for battle, sharing a haircutting experience that got out of hand this week. What's next, unifying tattoos and face paint?

"We've got to put together our best game," Mickelson said. "It's not going to be easy."

And it won't last forever, this Phil-Keegan tandem. But for now, the band remains together. Expect sweet music.

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