Returning as British Open champion, Phil Mickelson more confident about course than his game

  • Article by: DOUG FERGUSON , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 16, 2014 - 4:53 AM
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U.S. f]golfer Phil Mickelson tees off at the 3rd during day one of the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen golf course, Aberdeen Scotland Thursday July 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Kenny Smith/PA)

Photo: Kenny Smith, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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HOYLAKE, England — Phil Mickelson rolled long putts across the practice green in front of the Royal Liverpool clubhouse, some of them going in, most of them the right distance. He chirped to the caddie of Brandt Snedeker about their money game, a Mickelson tradition at the majors.

Lefty was in good spirits Monday at the British Open, except for having to return the claret jug.

Even that allowed him to reflect on a year of keeping golf's oldest trophy, and the confidence he finally has when he plays links golf.

"It's a different feeling for me coming over here now having won this tournament," Mickelson said. "The way I felt was, 'Am I ever going to break through and play well on links golf and win an Open Championship?' Now I know that I can. I know that I've done it, and it takes a lot of pressure off me."

Confidence in links golf? Yes.

In his game? That takes a little more work.

Not even Mickelson would have imagined when he left Muirfield last summer that he would not have won another tournament anywhere in the world. This is the longest he has gone without winning in five years.

And except for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January, where he was runner-up, Mickelson hasn't been particularly close.

He has missed three cuts. He withdrew twice after narrowly making the cut because of injuries in San Diego and San Antonio. At the Masters, where he is a three-time champion, Mickelson missed the cut for the first time in 17 years. His lone top 10 on the PGA Tour was last August at The Barclays, a tie for sixth when he closed with a 65.

So why the smile?

"Normally, I would be discourage or frustrated, but I'm just not," Mickelson said. "I feel like I've had some good breakthroughs in some areas. I haven't had the results. I know I haven't played well. But the parts feel a lot better than the whole right now. And I don't know when it will all click together. I don't know if it will be this week. I don't know if it will be in three weeks or a month or what, but it should be soon."

He's running out of time.

Mickelson is No. 12 in the Ryder Cup standings. He has qualified for every team since 1995 — two years after Jordan Spieth was born. He has reached the FedEx Cup finale for the top 30 at the Tour Championship every year since it began in 2007. With only three starts before the playoffs begin, Mickelson is at No. 97.

Then again, it's easy for Mickelson not to be overly concerned.

He is 44 and has been on tour for half of his life, compiling 42 victories on the PGA Tour and five majors, including that claret jug.

It's at least been a good year for the jug.

He has taken it to golf clubs and corporate outings, shared it with friends and people he had never met. He has let his caddie, Jim Mackay, take it to pose for pictures.

Mickelson had only one rule.

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