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Double Scotch for Lefty?


As he's matured Phil Mickelson has seen his opinion of links courses in the UK gradually soften. With three of his four major titles coming in the Masters at Augusta National and the other oming in the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol in New Jersey, Lefty hasn't had much success on the Continent in past Open Championships.

Indeed, in 19 starts in his quest for a Claret Jug, he's missed four cuts - including last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, with his best finishes a third in 1994 and a T-2 with fellow American Dustin Johnson in 2011 at Royal St. George's behind Northern ireland's Darren Clarke.

But Mickelson has had a recent change of heart, no doubt somewhat stemming from his victory last week in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness. When asked about his views of links golf, he said Tuesday, "I used to hate it and now I love it."

Last Sunday, Mickelson closed with a 3-under 69 to tie South Africa's Branden Grace in regulation at 17-under 271. He then birdied the first sudden-death playoff hole to win the European Tour event.

Ever the family man, Mickelson brought his clan over to Scotland for a two-week working vacation, one that will be capped off by the Open Championship, which gets underway Thursday at historic Muirfield.

"I'm looking forward to this week," he told reporters. "I've enjoyed my time over here, and having (wife) Amy and the kids here makes the week much more enjoyable. And then to start off with a victory last week feels terrific. I really enjoyed playing well last week. I enjoyed the golf course at Castle Stuart.

"And enjoyed finally breaking through and winning the Scottish Open. I've been coming so many years and it feels great. I'm looking forward to the British Open. I've been playing well for a few months, and I'm hopeful this will be a good week."

The Scottish Open victory propelled Mickelson to No. 5 in the latest World Golf Ranking. He will be paired in the first round with a couple of youngsters, No. 2 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, 24, and Japanese 21-year-old Hideki Matsuyama, ranked 44th.

During his Monday practice round, a video of Mickelson hitting one of his trademark backward shots with a lofted wedge went viral. "I haven't hit it in so long, I just looked at it and thought I'd give it a try," he said of the trick shot. "I didn't know anybody was filming . . . I don't know, I'm just having fun. I love the shots we get to hit over here.

"Sometimes we can get a wedge that can - you can hit forward off a level lie can almost go behind you when the wind is strong enough. Just having fun with shots around here is enjoyable. Hopefully I won't have to hit that shot this week, though."

Here's what else the 2012 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee had to say during his presser with the media.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to welcome Phil Mickelson, four-time major champion, into the Media Centre. Congratulations on your win last week. Similar conditions here, you must be feeling pretty confident.

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm looking forward to this week. I've enjoyed my time over here, and having Amy and the kids here makes the week much more enjoyable. And then to start off with a victory last week feels terrific. I really enjoyed playing well last week. I enjoyed the golf course at Castle Stuart. And enjoyed finally breaking through and winning the Scottish Open. I've been coming so many years and it feels great. I'm looking forward to the British Open. I've been playing well for a few months, and I'm hopeful this will be a good week.

Q. So just kind of spinning off of that, can there be a correlation, other than momentum, from last week to this week? Even though it's different courses, because it's the same turf and all that thing. What can you take from last week to this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: I thought there were two things that I liked about last week, was that the first part of the week the wind was pretty calm and we were able to play the game through the air and I played well, and was in contention and made some birdies. And then when the weather got bad on Sunday, I was also able to get the ball on the ground and still make some birdies. And I thought that that was a good sign because you just don't know what kind of weather you're going to get here. And certainly you need a little bit of luck to come out on top here. We saw what happened to Tiger in '02. It was one of worst breaks imaginable, especially after he had won the first two majors and had a shot at the Grand Slam. It's part of the tournament here, you need an element of luck, but you also need to play some great golf. These last few months I've played well enough to get in contention and play well here, but I do need some luck.

Q. You played just about every Open venue now, which one is your favorite? And where does Muirfield rank?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that my favorite would be St. Andrews because of the history that's there. But from an opportunity-to-win standpoint I would say that Muirfield or Troon would offer the two best chances, because of the way the holes move, it's very comfortable for me off some of the tees, getting the ball in play, as well as around the greens, I like it a lot. But I felt like Muirfield and Troon were the two courses that I felt most comfortable hitting the shots needed.

Q. Because of your creativity and imagination, these Open courses would seem really well suited to your game. Other than luck or misfortune, what do you think, has there been a common thread to your misfortune over the years?

PHIL MICKELSON: The common thread is, I believe, is more on the greens than anything. I've not putted these greens well with these little subtle nuances and rolls, with the crosswinds that come into play, as well as the strong blades of fescue grass. But I am really optimistic about this week and going forward because I'm starting to putt as well as I ever have. I putted great last week, and more than that I've been putting well now for months, and feel like I've really keyed in on something over the last three or four years, where I've added some poor stretches. You've seen me try the belly putter, you've seen me try different grips, and finally I believe I have kind of found the secret to my own putting, and what I need to do to putt well. And every single day now for the last year it's been the same thing, and I've been putting really well. And I think that last week was a very positive sign for me, because I putted difficult fescue grasses, and in wind conditions on Sunday, very well. And hopefully that one common thread that's given me problems here, I hopefully have solved.

Q. I want to ask you about the Japanese young player, Hideki Matsuyama. You're paired with him along with Rory on Thursday. How much do you know about him? And what do you think about a young player like him?

PHIL MICKELSON: I've heard a lot of good things with Matsuyama-san, he's a very good player, and I'll have a chance to play with him and see his game up close. But I've heard a lot of good things about him as a player. But I haven't played with him yet, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Q. As a follow-up to the putting question, is there a simple way to describe what it is you've found now? And the second

QUESTION IS ABOUT THE ROUGH: If you could describe and make subtle observations about the rough here?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I think the key to the rough is staying out of it (laughter). I feel like the fairways are a fair width. I feel like it's a very fair setup. The rough is difficult, but there are times where you can advance it. There are also times where you'll have a hard time finding it. I feel, though, that the setup is extremely fair because given the firmness of the fairways and as much as the ball is running, you have to have a little bit of room to maneuver and keep the ball in play. And the setup has allowed for that. I think it's a very fair setup, and if you play well and play reasonably well, you can keep the ball out of the rough.

Q. And the putting follow-up?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I tried to skip over that, because I'm not going to discuss it. I feel that I've kind of keyed in on something, and I don't really want to share.

Q. You're obviously a sports fan and a golf fan and you like drama, as well. How much do you relate to and enjoy watching what unfolded at John Deere with a guy like Jordan, who breaks through, 11th hour, gets the last spot in here, whatnot? You haven't had to do any of that for a long time; since you started, essentially, you've been in all the majors. Just talk about that. I don't know if you had a chance to see it. Obviously you know what happened.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think - I've watched Jordan Spieth now for the last three years, since he played at the Byron Nelson and played very well. And I think he's one of our really good young stars that we have coming up. Obviously he's played like that. But he is more than that. He's enjoyable to be around. He's got charisma; people are drawn to him. He's going to be a real asset to the Tour. I hope he gets on our team events soon. Much like guys Keegan Bradley bring to the table for the PGA Tour, I think Jordan Spieth does as well. Which is why winning is so important because it gets him now into the FedEx Cup event. It gets him his Tour card, and he's not dependent on sponsor exemptions. It allows him to start thriving on the PGA Tour, rather than having to worry about week to week. And I love his game. I love everything about it. It's not about pretty. It's not about making the most perfect swing. It's about hitting shots. And that's what he did under pressure. I love and respect that.

Q. How much do you appreciate the drama unfolding so late on Sunday, the charter plane, all the kind of stuff that goes along with that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I kind of miss that, just because of the time - I was asleep when most of that went on. I saw the highlights and I'm really excited for him, happy for him and happy for the Tour, because he's a real asset.

Q. Can you in some way explain your relationship with links golf?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's a hate/love, Alex. I used to hate it and now I love it.

Q. You talked about Tiger getting caught in that storm on Saturday. What is the worse weather you've been caught in playing in an Open Championship?

PHIL MICKELSON: I thought the worst weather I had played in in a long time was at St. Georges on the final round when I played the absolute best nine holes of golf I've ever played on the front nine.

Q. Two years ago?

PHIL MICKELSON: Two years ago, yeah. It was rainy, it was windy, and it was extremely hard. And I hit every shot as perfect as I could and played just an incredible nine holes. I missed the Muirfield weather in '02, because I played so poorly the first two rounds that I teed off early Saturday and was able to miss it. Shoot 1- or 2-over and move up 50 spots.

Q. Just a follow-up on St. Georges: What do you feel now when you look back on that? Do you feel tremendous pride in how you played, but do you also feel, I was unlucky, or what do you feel?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I'm more worried about how I'm getting ready for this week, than dwelling on the past.

Q. You mentioned last week that your wife, Amy, and your kids were jumping into rivers and lakes. Were you tempted to join them after winning on Sunday? And have they been jumping into anything this week at all?

PHIL MICKELSON: We really enjoy coming over here. Amy does such a great job in exposing our kids to different cultures and areas. And these last few days, they dropped me off here Sunday night, and went on to spend three days in Barcelona. Last year we spent some time in Italy, this year Barcelona. Hopefully there's a few other cities on our list that we want to get to. But I love how - one of the things I love about my wife, I mean, there's many, is that she does such a great job of taking advantage of our ability to travel and exposing the kids to different cultures, architecture, cities. And Barcelona was kind of the city of choice right now.

Q. With the course playing in so many different directions, does that mean that the guys who can move the ball both ways, and can land it where they know it's going to run 50 or 60 yards, does it cut it down to those people, the field, who can win?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's possible that that's going to be a big element, the ability to move the ball both ways into the wind. What I find is when you have firm ground like this and you have the wind at a reasonable strength that what actually comes into play for me or is the biggest factor is my ability inside 120 feet, inside 40 yards of getting up and down. My touch, putting, chipping along the ground, getting it inside a short, 3, 4, 5-foot area, to make the next putt, because putting in wind is very difficult. Chipping the ball close or putting it close from off the green in wind is very difficult. The speed differential, downwind into the wind is the highest you can have. And the firmness of the ground makes the touch and sensitivity to chipping so much greater, that I feel like that's the area where you can save the most shots and ultimately the winner excels at is his ability inside the 40 yards around the hole to get it up and down. If I put a percentage on it, that would the highest percentage of importance.

Q. Is it as a player more fun to keep on being tested by the wind now has changed to here or it's changed to there? You're having to think all the time?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think to do well you have to have fun with it, you have to enjoy that challenge, because it can get very frustrating because of its difficulty.

Q. The backwards shot you hit on the green in the practice round, did somebody challenge you to do that or how did you end up doing that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't hit it in so long, I just looked at it and thought I'd give it a try. I didn't know anybody was filming. It was Jeff, I guess. I don't know, I'm just having fun. I love the shots we get to hit over here. Sometimes we can get a wedge that can - you can hit forward off a level lie can almost go behind you when the wind is strong enough. Just having fun with shots around here is enjoyable. Hopefully I won't have to hit that shot this week, though.

Q. What do you remember about managing outside expectations when you were a young player and getting used to being scrutinized as you came up in your career?

PHIL MICKELSON: What do I remember about it? I think that - Rory has been out here for five years, even though he's extremely young. He's won two major championships and a number of tournaments to where he is acutely aware of what is needed to handle pressures and things off the course. He's too good and talented player to not get his game sharp. And I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't happen this week.

Q. You didn't carry a driver at Merion a couple of weeks ago. Do you have one this week? And do you think you'll be using it a lot?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not going to carry it this week, no. I feel like the 64 degree wedge on this firm ground can save me some shots, and I just don't see how a driver is going to help me in any areas. I'm able to hit that 3-wood on this firm ground every bit as close enough in distance on the holes. And distance on any tee shot is not even in my mind. It's avoiding bunkers, avoiding rough, getting the ball in the fairway. And I can do it a lot easier with clubs other than driver.

Q. I understand you played with Brooks Koepka today?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah. What a great talent.

Q. What about his game impressed you? Also, apparently he met you as an 8-year-old briefly, do you remember about that?

PHIL MICKELSON: We laughed about that today. He's really a good, talented player. And I thought that a couple of shots he hit really stood out, as well as - he hit a drive on 6 where he cut it back into the wind, the ball held its line extremely tight. He hit an iron shot into a par-3 on No. 7 that was really impressive, that stuck out. The tightness of its flight into the wind. His ball-striking is extremely solid. He's a wonderful putter. I can see why he earned his right to get on the European Tour so quickly with three wins on the Challenge Tour. He has got an extremely strong game. I look forward to playing with him more.

Q. Why do you now love links golf? And when and how did the hate turn into love?

PHIL MICKELSON: It really changed for me back in 2004 when Dave Pelz and I spent some time over here and developed a shot that feels easy to get the ball on the ground and in play off the tee; getting rid of these big misses when the ball gets up in the crosswinds and it takes it 50 yards off the edge of the fairway and into the deep heather. We worked on a shot that's kind of a - I call it kind of a chip, a kind of a chip 4-wood, a chip hybrid, a chip 4-iron, where I'm just swinging it almost half pace trying to take spin and speed off of it and just get it on the ground. And it's this low, little scooting shot that feels very easy to get it in play. And the miss is not anywhere near as drastic, because it's not ever up in the wind. I would try to hit it low, but I would do it the wrong way by trying to hit it hard. And I would end up spinning it, and it would not get on the ground quick enough. And it started in around '04, I would say.

Q. Why do you love it now?

PHIL MICKELSON: Because it's much easier to get the ball in play off the tee. I would fight the thick, heavy air. I would fight the wind off the tee. And now it feels much easier for me to get it off the fairway and into play.

Q. Following up on that question, you talked about changing mechanics, was there any change in mindset to this general approach to links?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, I've always appreciated the rub of the green, and the luck of the bounce, and those things. I've always enjoyed - what I've enjoyed most about links golf is the importance of short game, because when you get the ball going away from the hole with crosswinds, downwind or what have you, short game becomes really important. It was a challenge for me to get the mindset of the importance of angles of links golf, because in America we could always just fly the ball over the trouble to the hole and stop it. And here the angle off the tee, the angle into the green to certain pins is every bit as important as the execution of the shot.

Q. Where was the first time you played links golf? And can you tell us the best experience you've had in the Open Championship?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the first time I played links golf was in the Walker Cup in 1991, Portmarnock Ireland, but the first time over here was in '92. I tried to qualify for The Open Championship at Muirfield over at North Berwick, and that was really one of my first experiences. I remember that golf course very vividly. And I feel like that course had such an influence on architecture in the early 20th century that a lot of the holes - probably the most emulated hole ever is the Redan hole throughout the world. But some of the features, like the green on 16, some of the blind shots, the architecture, there, is exquisite.

Q. Consecutive wins are pretty hard. You've done it four times. After winning the first week, can you talk about the pressures of winning the next week.

PHIL MICKELSON: No, it's difficult. I mean, it's difficult to win the week before a major and then follow it up winning the major. But then again the last person to do it, you're looking at him (laughter).

MODERATOR: Thanks a lot. Good luck this week.

PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.