Mickelsons Back and Hes Firing Again

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Lost in all the hubbub surrounding John Dalys win at San Diego was another not-so-quiet story ' Phil Mickelson came through with his fourth top-10 in four tries this year.
 
Yep, he did it again. His worst finish has been a tie for seventh. His best one, of course, was a win in his season-opener at the Bob Hope. Quite a departure for someone nearly everyone ' myself included ' thought wasnt going to come out of the tailspin he found himself in last year.
 
But in all honesty, Phil has been here before. He will gently remind you that he failed to win in 1999, then came back in 2000 for a four-win season. He didnt win last year, either, and the television announcers (and others, it must be noted) pointed out that the reason was his poor judgment in always going for it. Everyone seemed to forget that he had won 21 times using this sort of mindset. Arnold Palmer wasnt exactly a shrinking violet, either, but he won 62 times by never seeing a pin placement he didnt like.
 
Mickelson is showing us that kind of mentality, too. He tried to go a little the other way in 2003, made a half-hearted attempt at laying up after listening to a world of complaints. But face it ' that just isnt Phil. While he isnt exactly the heat-seeking missile that he was pre-2003, he certainly isnt shy about going for the flags in 2004.
 
Mickelson tried to lay up once this year ' on television ' and he bogeyed anyway. All right, he did it by way of a three-putt. The bogey wasnt the fault of his strategy. But it was a bogey, nonetheless.
 
The only time I can think of one thing that backfired is when I laid up on 14 at the Hope and I still made 6, he grimaced. You know, there's one example, but it didn't really help.
 
For the most part, I've hit a lot of drivers. I'll put the 1-iron in the bag when the fairways start to bottleneck at 270, which is the case later in the year. At AT&T where the fairways are wet, course is playing long, there weren't any 1-iron holes really. But the U.S. Open, the tougher setups, I'll be having it in the bag. You might see a little bit of difference off the tee.
 
No one figured there would be room for him to raise this kind of ruckus this year. Tiger, of course, was at the top, but since Phil last visited, Vijay Singh has made an awful pest of himself. So has Ernie Els. Did I mention Davis Love? Or Kenny Perry? Mike Weir? There didnt seem to be much room for a rejuvenated Mickelson.
 
But he just muscled his way past everyone. Those guys have been doing it again, but Mickelson has been doing it every week. He shot out of the gate with the afterburners roaring.
 
I think it's just an improved game, really, and kind of an excitement for the year, he said. Putting last year, all the troubles behind, looking forward to this year; spending time in the off-season getting ready for this year, I couldn't wait for it to start. I'm just really enthusiastic about playing golf. When that's the case, I play my best.
 
In addition to the on-course hiccups, Mickelson and wife Amy were involved in a problem pregnancy. Their son is now OK, but it was very touchy for awhile. Thats all behind him now, though, and he says he once again is ready to go play.
 
He is only four tournaments deep into 2004, of course. But early 2004 has been impressive indeed. He is averaging 290 on the 34 drives that have been measured. His driving accuracy is 65th, and thats about average, even for a guy who launches it out there as far as he does. He is 38th in greens hit. But the real dagger has been his putting. He is eighth in rolling it. If he can keep it up to anywhere near that average, he is going to be sticky indeed.
 
And you thought he was impressive two years ago?
 
I feel like I'm playing a little bit better than a couple years ago, he said before the tournament began last week. It has only been three weeks, and it's hard to say. But I feel that I'm driving the ball better than I did a couple years ago. My distance control of my irons when I was No. 2 in the world was very good, and I feel like I'm at that level again.
 
My putting - I putted very well. I feel like I'm starting to putt pretty well. My short game seems to be pretty sharp. I spent a lot of time just chipping and putting in the off-season. I saw that my scrambling stats were up quite a bit from the last couple years. So just in general, I do feel like it's a little bit better than it was a few years ago.
 
And suddenly, it was all there again, the little-boy smile and that cherub face. Phil Mickelson is back, at age 33. Hes tried to do what the smart boys told him, but it wasnt very successful. He has reformed just a little, but when he is rolling along now without a lot of technical thoughts, he goes back to what brought him this far in the first place. Firin Phil is just Aggressive Phil, and this is the way he plays the best.
 
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