Mickelson Enjoying Return to Form

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CARLSBAD, Cal. - Phil Mickelson had just successfully negotiated the minefield that is the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship. Potholes here, ambushes there, he survived it all to record a 3-and-1 victory over Lee Westwood. This, he was saying, is excitement.
 
'It's tough,' he said, 'but I love the tournament.' So much so that the fan in him comes out a little at this event.
 
'I try not to look at the brackets, try not to look at the next match or who I would play or what have you. (But) I enjoy looking at how certain guys do. I find match play to be very interesting head-to-head competition.'
 
Mickelson has not been particularly successful at this event, though it is only five miles from his home. His record going into the event this year was four wins and four losses in the four years he has played. He has lost in the first round twice. But that is just the nature of match play events, he says, particularly match play with the best players in the world.
 
'I feel like this is a tournament - because it's 10 minutes from my house, it's a course I've won on when it was a stroke play match - it's a tournament that I really want to do well at,' said Mickelson.
 
This is the year of Mickelson's resurgence, incidentally. It's not often that you can say that about a player who finishes 38th on the money list, but Mickelson had finished second to only Tiger Woods in 2000, '01 and '02. Last year the 32-year-old stumbled through his worst year ever.
 
This year, though, he already has a win (Bob Hope Chrysler Classic), missed getting in a playoff at the Buick Invitational by one shot, and has two top 10s in his other two events. The reason? He's driving the ball in the fairway, and he's hitting his irons the correct distance to the flags. And one sets up the other.
 
'They (the approach shot) might be a little left, a little right, but they were pin high,' he said of his first-round match. 'And driving the ball in the fairway allows me to hit those iron shots in. So it just seems to be a lot easier.'
 
Another big difference this year for Mickelson is his golf ball. He originally used the Titleist Pro V1x, but has since switched to the Titleist Pro VI. The x ball, even though it went further, spun too much and Mickelson was having difficulty reaching pins cut in the back of the green.
 
Mickelson just returned to his home in the San Diego area after a week of snow-skiing in Utah. It was a week of 'high-altitude physical training,' he said.
 
'I love to ski, and what I've found is that as I have gotten in better shape, my cardiovascular has allowed me to ski a little bit harder - not just faster or reckless, but just a little bit harder,' he said. 'I've enjoyed that.'
 
Mickelson, eternally optimistic, absolutely bubbles over when he talks about golf. He even hyperventilates when he talks about practice. Last year he practiced hard, he says, but he practiced on the wrong things. This year has been different, with decidedly different results.
 
'Now I've been given a great direction with Dave Pelz on how to get better from 150 (yards) in, and Rick Smith on how to get better in driving the ball and ball-striking,' he said. 'When I go to the range, I feel and can see the improvement, because I am able to hit shots today that three months ago I couldn't hit.
 
'That, to me, is what's exciting.'
 
What's exciting to Mickelson is anything that is connected with a four-letter word: g-o-l-f. Double that excitement if he does well in his backyard this week.
 
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