Lefty Looking to Take Major Stride

By Mercer BaggsAugust 9, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 PGA ChampionshipSPRINGFIELD, N.J. ' Much of the attention at the 87th PGA Championship is focused on Tiger Woods and his pursuit of another three-win major season.
And so it is that just about every one of the other 155 players in the field this week have been asked for their assessments of what Woods has already accomplished ' two wins and a runner-up in three major starts this year, and what might be should he win yet again.
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson hopes his game plan will result in winning a second major title.
Lets answer that one a little later, responded Phil Mickelson with a wry smile.
Mickelsons concern this week is not with Woods. Hes well aware that he has no control on how well his rival will play. His concern is solely with himself ' and judging by his performance in the majors this season, there is concern to be had.
A year ago at this time, Mickelson was preparing at Whistling Straits with thoughts of capping his greatest-ever major campaign. Now hes at Baltusrol Golf Club trying to avoid one of his worst.
Mickelson has yet to contend for a major championship this year, having finished 10th at the Masters, tied for 33rd at the U.S. Open and tied for 60th at the Open Championship ' a combined 36 strokes behind the winners.
His results gradually depreciated last year as well; though, they went from a win to a runner-up to a third-place showing to a tie for sixth. In the three majors in which he didnt prevail, he was a combined five strokes removed from those who did.
Mickelson began this year strongly with three PGA Tour victories before the Masters, providing great hope and greater expectations in relation to the major championships.
But not only has he yet to perform up to his elevated standards in the elite events, he hasnt procured a top-5 finish anywhere since the Masters precursor, the BellSouth Classic.
I had a great start to the year, and (felt) like I was playing very well. I just didnt play the best during the summer, he said. But I think that things are turning around and Im looking forward to finishing off the year right.
Its been a great three weeks since the British Open for me. Ive had some great ideas on how to start playing the way I feel I can and know that I can.
While his results in the majors this season may be different from that of 2004, his preparations have yet to change.
Just as he has done since last years Masters ' where ended his 0-for-46 streak in the majors, Mickelson arrived on site at Baltusrol in advance of tournament week.
Mickelson prepped at length on the Lower Course the Sunday and Monday before last weeks International. He then competed in the Colorado event with thoughts of Jersey in the forefront of his mind, using the Jack Nicklaus-designed Castle Pines course as training grounds for Baltusrol.
A Nicklaus course favors a left-to-right shot, and all last week I was hitting right-to-left fades, because thats all Ill hit here. Youll see me hit fade after fade on this course because I want to take the right side out of play on most every hole. So I was trying to hit those exact shots last week that I was going to hit here, he said.
I want to put everything that I have into this one championship.
Having played the 7,396-yard, par-70 Lower Course on multiple occasions, Mickelson knows what it will take to contend this week: I think length could be a factor (given the soft conditions), but I think the most important thing is just to play well and hit the shots.
'Put it in the fairway.'
But its what hes done ' or hasnt been able to do ' in the seasons first three majors that has taught him what he needs to do in order to win this week.
If I look statistically, my putting has been the one area on these quick, fast greens in the majors, that has not been to the same level as last year, so thats something Ive been working on and hopefully have figured it out, he said. The greens here, I feel like I have a pretty good feel on, and they roll so true and perfectly. I feel very confident on them.
'Putting is really a tough thing,' said Dave Pelz, Mickelson's short-game instructor. 'This year his rhythm hasn't been very good. It's a little surprising after how well things went last year.'
Mickelson is the eternal optimist. And as much as success in the majors means to him, hes trying not to overemphasize their importance ' something hes tried to do his entire career.
The ultimate evaluation of his season ' this one or any other, he says, will not be determined in these four events ' let alone in just one week.
I wouldnt put it to that degree, no, he replied when asked if this event would make or break his year, but it could certainly make my perception of the way I feel about my performance (in) the four majors do a 180 this year.
But I would not wrap up the whole year into how I played in the four majors, because starting the year I felt that I had achieved a couple of things in my game that I had been wanting to do for a while.
I feel like there were some good strides taken in 2005.
Just no major strides ' at least not yet.
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