'It's an opportunity for the top players, if they're playing their best, to really shine,' he said. 'It's easier for the top players to win a major. They can separate themselves, much more so than the other guys.'
Then, abruptly, Mickelson cut short his dissertation.
'Of course, I've never won one,' he said, suddenly remembering the biggest blemish of his career. 'I'm not quite sure what my point was.'
Actually, Mickelson made it through an entire news conference Monday without being asked the same ol' question. That wasn't necessarily a good thing.
It's been more than a year since Lefty won his last tournament, and he's never played that well in the British Open. No wonder the subject of 'Best Player Never To Win a Major' didn't come up.
Instead, the queries went something like this:
How's the course? Why has it been 20 years since the British had a repeat champion? Any thoughts on Tiger Woods going four straight majors without a victory?
Oh, by the way Phil, does your house have air conditioning for these unseasonable English temperatures? (No.) And, if you don't mind, how do you think this warm weather will affect the tournament?
'The density altitude is much higher when it's hotter, so the ball seems to go through the air a little better,' Mickelson replied, mimicking a physics professor. (Translation: the ball goes farther.)
Only later, when Mickelson met informally with a small group of reporters, did someone finally mention the lack of a major title among his 21 PGA Tour victories.
Mickelson arrived at Sandwich a disappointing 31st on the season money list, which wouldn't even be good enough to earn a spot in the season-ending Tour Championship.
The statistic is particularly striking for a guy who's been runner-up on the earnings list four years in a row - and no lower than 28th since he turned pro a decade ago. His more recent victory came at the Greater Hartford Open in June 2002.
Mickelson has won at least two events in seven of his 10 years on tour, but an errant performance off the tee pushed him into a bit of a slump. Since a third-place showing at the Masters, he hasn't finished higher than a tie for 13th in seven events.
'No excuses,' Mickelson said. 'I just haven't played well.'
As usual, the left-hander is one of the game's longest hitters, ranking fourth in driving distance with a 304-yard average. Unfortunately, he rarely knows where the ball is going, hitting the fairway barely half the time to place 189th in driving accuracy.
In an effort to correct his problems, Mickelson spent some time recently with swing coach Rick Smith. If history is any indication, the results won't be evident this week.
Mickelson has been a top-10 finisher in the majors a staggering 17 times, but none of those have come at the British Open. His best showing was a tie for 11th in 2000; last year, he tied for 66th at Muirfield.
In links golf, it's more important to shape shots off the tee, setting up the best angle to the green, rather than just hit it farther than everyone else. Also, while Mickelson is one of the tour's most creative shotmakers, the tightly shaved courses on this side of Atlantic don't allow his to spin the ball like he does back home.
'The game in the States is played in the air,' Mickelson said. 'In Europe, it's played on the ground for the most part. When you only do it for one or two weeks, it's difficult to adapt. That's my feeling, but that's an excuse I won't accept.'
Besides, it's not like Americans haven't done well at the British Open. Six of the last eight winners have been U.S. players, including David Duval in 2001, removing himself from consideration for best player never to win a major.
Mickelson refuses to concede that his game isn't cut out for Britain's historic courses.
'It's the same-size hole. It's the same thought process. It's the same golf shots. It's the same creativity you need to play well,' he said. 'I just need to play better.'
Maybe technology will lend a helping hand. Mickelson said improvements in clubs and balls make it easier to hit the sort of low shots required on a links layout without having to make a major swing adjustment.
Still, he's not given much of a chance to win his first major this week. Mickelson is a 35-1 choice of the oddsmakers, compared to 5-2 favorite Woods.
'I'm starting to strike it much better,' Mickelson said, trying to sound hopeful. 'I haven't put it together for four good rounds, but I'm hitting a lot more good shots.'
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