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Ryder Cup vet Phil Mickelson brings ‘magic’ act to Team USA

MEDINAH IL - SEPTEMBER 26:  Phil MickelsUSA talks his teammate Zach Johnsduring third preview day The 39th Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Phil Mickelson of the USA talks to his teammate Zach Johnson during the third preview day of The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Golf Club on September 26, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:40AM

Even though it became a moot point when he sneaked in as the eighth and final automatic qualifier, it was pretty clear Phil Mickelson’s Ryder Cup streak was in no danger.

He would have been selected as a captain’s pick. Captains regard Mickelson, 42, as the consummate team player.

‘‘Phil gets it,’’ Team USA captain Davis Love III said Wednesday. ‘‘He knows what to say at the right time. He knows when to be serious and when to be give his strategy theories, and he knows when to make a joke and have fun.’’

Paul Azinger, captain of the winning 2008 U.S. team, couldn’t agree more, even though Mickelson was 1-2-2 in 2008.

‘‘He’s pure magic and great support in the team room,’’ Azinger said. ‘‘He’s a terrific teammate. Even if Phil were to lose a match, he still could be a terrific asset.’’

Mickelson was positively jovial during his media session Wednesday when asked about teaming up with Tiger Woods in Team USA’s table-tennis showdowns.

‘‘Although we didn’t play well together in ’04 on the golf course, put us together on that table and we’re rocking it,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘We’ve had a lot of fun together as teammates. We are serving it up. There are not many guys that can match us on the Pong table.’’

The question is, can Mickelson help the Americans paddle the Europeans when the Ryder begins at Medinah on Friday?

He’s making his ninth straight Ryder Cup appearance, tops on the U.S. team. But the Americans have lost in six of Mickelson’s eight Ryder Cup appearances, including the 2004 disaster at Oakland Hills, where Woods-Mickelson went 0-2, the only time they’ve been paired together.

But there are signs Mickelson (11-17-6), who holds the record for most losses by an American in Ryder Cup play, might be ready to deliver with a club as well as a paddle this time around.

For one thing, after struggling for most of the season, Mickelson’s game came around earlier this month. In the final three FedEx Cup events, at Boston (T-4), Indianapolis (T-2) and Atlanta (T-15), Mickelson was in the hunt.

‘‘Mickelson always gets a bad rap at the Ryder Cup,’’ Azinger said, noting that Mickelson generally put away his clubs after the PGA, which left him rusty for the Ryder Cup. ‘‘The FedEx Cup helps Phil to come in here prepared. In the past, Phil’s disappeared in the Ryder because it basically was his offseason. Now that they’re doing  playoffs right up to the Ryder Cup, I think Phil will be effective.’’

Another positive sign is that Mickelson, who had his best Ryder Cup when he went 3-0 as a rookie in 1995, is pumped about playing with Keegan Bradley.

‘‘It’s no secret I’m going to be playing a lot with Keegan Bradley,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘It’s fun playing with Keegan because this is his first team event. He’s so excited, and that exuberance and energy that he brings, you feed off of it.’’

Another good sign is that for all of their accomplishments, Mickelson and Woods are much better team guys than they were when they first started playing in the Ryder Cup.

‘‘They both came onto the team trying to win a whole bunch of points,’’ Love said. ‘‘They thought that was what they were supposed to do. Now they just want to win. I can’t tell you how many times both Tiger and Phil have said, ‘Whatever you want us to do, we’ll do it.’ ’’

Mickelson also sees camaraderie, not intensity, as the key.

‘‘Over the years, looking back, we have not played our best when we have focused on trying to win the Ryder Cup,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘We’ve played our best when we’ve had fun, enjoyed each other’s company and enjoyed the competition.’’

All they need to do now is make their fun spill over from Ping-Pong to fairways and greens.

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