Mickelson hoping to find form in title defense

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DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. ' Phil Mickelsons star presence at the Deutsche Bank Championship was evident Thursday by the company he kept at the TPC Boston.
 
He played the pro-am with tournament host Seth Waugh, the CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas; New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft. Such is the VIP treatment typically afforded the highest-ranked player in the field.
 
FedExCup playoff standings aside, that honor still falls to Mickelson.
 
He is No. 2 in the world ranking, although its easy to forget that. Because while Tiger Woods has been out of sight for two months after his season-ending knee surgery, Mickelson at times has been MIA.
 
Some thought he would take advantage of Woods absence by piling up victories, perhaps another major or two, and giving himself a chance to win the money title or PGA TOUR player of the year for the first time in his career.
 
But it hasnt worked out that way.
 
Mickelson has played four times with only one serious chance at winning, when he had a one-shot lead until bogeys on three of the last four holes at Firestone to tie for fourth. He had to rally to make the weekend at the British Open, was steady but not spectacular in his tie for seventh at the PGA Championship and opened the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup last week with a tie for 19th.
 
Ive played the same way Ive played throughout the year, Mickelson said. I just havent been scoring the way I would like. Even though I feel like Im playing better, the little shots around the greens have cost me. But Im starting to get that turned around, and I expect to have a much better week.
 
By most standards, Mickelson has had a good year. He won at Riviera and Colonial, and he is third on the money list, a little more than $1 million behind Woods. With three more $7 million events, a money title is not out of reach.
 
This would be a good place to turn it around, even if the cast of characters has changed.
 
A year ago, Mickelson surged into FedExCup contention with perhaps the most exciting playoff event at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He played the first two rounds with Woods and Vijay Singh, then hooked up with Woods in the final round and closed with a 66 and beat Woods and two others by two shots.
 
Asked how he remembered last year, Mickelson broke up the room by saying only, Very fondly.
 
It was a fun tournament last year, and I loved the opportunity to have won the tournament, he said. But I also love the way it happened, with the opportunity to play three rounds with Tiger.
 
Woods hasnt played since winning the U.S. Open in a playoff, and the tour has had a taste of life without the worlds most famous athletes. Attendance has been noticeably down in recent events, and television ratings have plunged, as to be expected.
 
Someone asked Mickelson if he wondered what golf would be like if Woods wasnt around. He figured he would be No. 1 in the world and Id be making half as much as I am now.
 
That was a reference to Woods being responsible for such big purses on tour.
 
Im very thankful hes in our sport, and hes had the success and the charisma and the lure to attract corporate America, as well as fans, to the game, he said.
 
Interest now is driven by a slow elimination amid volatile change in the standings as the FedExCup heads to a conclusion next month with $10 million going to the winner.
 
Singh took over the lead with a victory at The Barclays last week, while the two guys he beat in the playoff at Ridgewood ' Sergio Garcia and Kevin Sutherland ' are right behind.
 
Mickelson is at No. 4, and feeling good vibes from the TPC Boston, is hopeful of making a move.
 
There was a fun moment on the practice range after the pro-am that showed where his priorities are. His caddie, Jim Bones Mackay was looking for the perfect spot on the range for Lefty to practice, off to the side at an angle where the light wind was directly into them.
 
This OK? Mackay said when Mickelson arrived.
 
Oh, yeah. Hanging lie. Sidehill. Yeah, thats perfect, Mickelson said in mock sarcasm.
 
Youre left-handed, Mackay replied. You know that, right? You are playing left-handed this week, arent you?
 
Mickelson ended the good-natured exchange by saying, Im going to go chip a few.
 
He spent the next several minutes chipping from various points around a practice green, feeling as though that element of his game ' even Woods believes he has the best short game in golf ' has been hurting him.
 
I feel like Im hitting the ball pretty good, Mickelson said. The key is going to be ' again ' scoring, getting up-and-down around the greens that I miss and getting those birdie putts to drop.
 
As much focus as there is at the top, equally important this week is the bottom. The second round of the playoffs is for the top 120 players, with only 70 advancing to the third round next week in St. Louis for the BMW Championship.
 
Lee Janzen is in a familiar spot.
 
He started these playoffs in the last position, at No. 144, and again is essentially in last place at No. 119 because Alex Cejka withdrew with injury.
 
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