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Mickelson Shooting for Breakthrough Victory
Though he's won the Masters three times and the PGA Championship once, Phil Mickelson is hoping to update that career record by bagging a victory in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Ranked No. 2 in the world behind Tiger Woods, Mickelson has finished second in the U.S. Open five times since 1999, and is hoping that this week he'll move up to the top spot on the leaderboard and even supplant Woods.
But he knows the task will be difficult. Not only must he overcome the best field in golf, Mickelson has to negotiate his way around a golf course that promises to be very difficult.
On Tuesday, the popular player known as "Lefty" sat down with reporters and discussed his chances this week.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, thank you again for joining us at the 2010 U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach. We're honored this afternoon to have Phil Mickelson join us in the media center. He's playing in his 20th U.S. Open, his third at Pebble Beach. In 1992 he played his first professional at Pebble. He tied for 16th. Can you talk a little bit about coming back to Pebble Beach and what it means to play in an Open here.
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm looking forward to playing this week, it's a special tournament for me, this is where I played my first event as a professional, 1992. I had a great first round, shot 68, and then shot 82 to miss the cut. This course can really bite you. It was a difficult test. It was very difficult in '92, as it was in 2000, although one player in 2000 made it look easy, and I think it's going to be very hard this week, as well.
Q. When you were pursuing that first major, for what seemed like all those years and kept being asked about it, you kept getting close, and finally broke through, I just wondered, is there any similar feel to you to break through with this championship, which I know you covet as much as any, since you've got five runner ups and been so close?
PHIL MICKELSON: Possibly. I think this is an event that is unlike other events we have on Tour, and unlike a couple of majors in that we move it around. And because it's always at a different venue, it's difficult to get dialed into one particular course, whereas if we play the AT&T event we come back every year, and know what the golf course is going to be like, although this year the course is not like the AT&T setup. But having second five of the last 11 years and coming so close, this is a tournament I'd very much like to win. I think when I started out as a young pro, not many people -- maybe even myself, included -- thought this would be a tournament I would play well at, but yet I've been able to. So because of that I still have a sense of pride in the way I've played, but, again, I would like to win my national Open.
Q. What would it mean to win an Open here at Pebble Beach and could you talk about the course setup?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it would mean a lot to any player, myself included, given that I've come so close so many times. My special tie to Pebble Beach and that, again, it was my first event as a professional. I've played so much here over the years, and had some success at AT&T and have a lot of fond memories here. The condition, I think it's the best U.S. Open setup that I've seen. I think the one area of concern I have is the greens, they're so small and they're so firm that, given that there's not any forecast for rain, I'm certainly concerned that we could have 14 potential 7th holes at Shinnecock, if we're not careful. I think the rough and fairway and shot making and new tee boxes on 9 and 10, and I think a lot of these changes have been exceptional.
Q. Are you motivated at all to try to become the world's No. 1-ranked player?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think everybody who plays golf as a professional is motivated to try to become No. 1. It's not an area that I focus on to do that. I feel if I play good golf that will happen. I don't know the ranking system or world points or how that works, nor do I care, I just know that if I continue to play well, ultimately in the long run, it will happen.
Q. Can you use your psychology degree at all to look at five seconds as a semblance of success, that you've put yourself there so often other instead of most people look at it as a sign of failure, or not quite getting over the hump?
PHIL MICKELSON: Maybe, I don't know if that's it or not, I just know in this tournament I've been able to get myself in contention and give myself opportunities to win. I think the penalty for a mis-hit in the U.S. Open is so severe, I think the challenge of the short game and getting up and down is so difficult that it may -- it gives me an opportunity over the course of 72 holes to keep myself in contention.
Q. If you could expand on that a little bit more, you said you didn't necessarily see yourself as a great Open player when you started. What over the years has made you such a strong Open player, as far as your approach to the tournament?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that in the Open the biggest thing is when you approach a hole is, where can you make par from, what's your best opportunity to make par. And there are a lot of times where these greens are unhittable, that you will not be able to keep it on the surface. There's nobody in the field, when the pin is to the left on 17, unless the wind is in, but if there's no hurt, there's nobody in the field that can hit the ball on the green. So you have to say, well, where am I going to make par from, the front bunker, the back bunker, hit it to that spot and make par. And I think that's why I've been able to be successful in The Open is that nobody is able to hit some greens and it puts a lot of emphasis on short game then.
Q. So short game as much as anything?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think so, yes, short game.
Q. Obviously you have a birthday tomorrow. Can you compare maybe what your golf game is now compared to what it was when you turned 30. In general what golfers need to do as they get into their 40s or late 30s and 40s to keep at that level?
PHIL MICKELSON: When I was first out on Tour and Nicklaus won The Masters at 46 it just seemed like, oh, my goodness, how difficult that would be for anybody at 46. Or when he won the U.S. Open in 1980 at 40, it was like, oh, man this is incredible. But over time we've seen -- we see players like Vijay Singh win nine times in his mid to late 40s in one year. And we see Kenny Perry who is 49, make the Ryder Cup team and have one of the best years of his career last year. And it seems as though players are playing much better golf in their 40s. I look at where I was at when I was 30, you asked the question, where was my game at 30, and I see a phenomenal difference between where I was at 30 and where I am today. And I look six years ago when I won the Masters for the first time where my game was at. And even as early as a year ago I see a big difference. And so I feel like even though I'm 40 I'm playing some of my best golf.
Q. What's different now than it was a couple of years ago?
PHIL MICKELSON: Distance control, variety of shots into greens, short irons, being able to take spin off, landing the ball consistently at the right yardage, short game more consistent, putting fast greens better, reading greens better, rolling it better, certainly driving it better, when you look at each area.
Q. Earlier this year you were struggling to find your form and then it sort of clicked when you got to Augusta. Do you feel like you're in a better shape with your game coming into Pebble than you were going into Augusta?
PHIL MICKELSON: I would say comparable. It's different because Augusta requires a lot different shots, you know, it requires a lot different approach to certain holes. I swing as hard as I can at Augusta off every tee shot. Distance is a factor. The driver that I had was stronger, designed to go farther. The U.S. Open is different. Distance isn't a factor here. Accuracy, controlling the ball off the tee, putting the ball in the right spot in the fairways or right spot in the rough if you have to, or missing the greens in the proper spot, chipping out of rough instead of chipping out of a fairway or first cut. The shots that I've been working on are nothing like what I had been working on at the Masters.
Q. They've moved the fairways closer to some of the cliffs on like 6, 8, 9, what impact, if any, do you think that's going to have?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, when we talk about changes, I thought moving the tee over on 8, moving the tee back on 9, and moving it back on 10 were great changes, because I buy into the philosophy of making the hard holes harder and the easy holes easier. I want to see birdies and I want to see bogeys and be challenged on the hard holes and have an opportunity to get a shot back on the easy ones. By moving the tee over on 8 and moving the approach in, it makes our approach shot 20 yards back, than it would be if the fairway were where it is during the AT&T. Moving the tee back on 9 and 10 has our approach shot much longer into those challenging greens. And to be able to walk away with pars on those holes you're going to gain a lot of ground in the field. I don't think 6 is going to be like they hoped, in moving the green over to the ocean, I don't think that will play the way they wanted. I've hit 4-iron off the tee every day and I will hit it every day off that tee box, and I can still reach it, I hit 2-iron over the green. And it forces -- it just -- I don't think it quite plays the way they wanted it to. But I think it's still a very reachable, very playable par-5.
Q. You talked about maybe the possibility of being a lot of treacherous, Shinnecock-like greens, when you look at the 1992 U.S. Open, Gil Morgan got to 12-under, Tiger got to 12-under in 2000, how do you see the scoring this week as far as the leaders? Can they get up to 10-under, something like that, and stay there?
PHIL MICKELSON: No. In both those Opens we had rain the first couple of days. And so it was very score-able the first two rounds in '92. And then the course got away and guys were shooting in the mid to high 80s. In 2000 it was the greatest performance I've ever seen in the game, to shoot 12-under by Tiger, that was the best ball-striking and the best putting tournament that's ever been performed in my opinion. The next was 3-over. And I thought that that was pretty good play and we were only able to shoot 3-over because the first two days we had some moisture, and I don't expect to see moisture. It's not supposed to rain this week, and that's why I'm concerned.
Q. Back to the Masters situation, after you won and you walked off the course and had the hug, what kind of response did you get from some people that may have gone through similar situations with their family? Do you visualize making an encore here?
PHIL MICKELSON: That was a very special, emotional week. And we were fortunate to have good long-term prognosis, and so we feel fortunate, even though we've had a difficult year. I think that things have slowly been getting better and I'm hoping and anticipate that Amy will be able to come out this weekend. I certainly hope so. And I would love to play well and share another victory, because that memory that we have at Augusta is something we'll never forget and something we look back on still and tear up when we look back on it. It was a fun week.
Q. Conventional thinking is that at a U.S. Open you play conservatively. Conventional or conservative is not really what we associate with your game. In an Open, do you have to rein yourself in more or fight your instincts in that way more, in an Open?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I don't. And the reason is I want to play aggressive into the green. I don't want to play aggressive off the tee, per se, I want to play aggressive at the pin. And when I play 6 I want to play more conservative off the tee, so that I can play more aggressive into the green. If I hit that fairway, even if it's with a 5- or 6-iron I can play more aggressive into the green. I can hit 3-wood up by the green and make birdie with my wedge. If I miss that fairway, trying to hit 3-wood or driver, now I can't even get up top of the hill. Now I'm playing conservative. So I approach U.S. Opens as how can I be most aggressive into the pin, not necessarily off the tee.
Q. You talk about how much you want to win the Open, obviously. Whether or not you do it, you've obviously had a great career. Do you think much about Sam Snead who had a great career, but when stories are written it's always mentioned he didn't win a U.S. Open, he obviously wanted to. Do you think about how your career will be remembered?
PHIL MICKELSON: Not really. I really don't. You could say that about any player about some tournament. Nicklaus never won in Canada (laughter). I mean, come on. So we could do stuff like that. We could talk about Arnold not winning a PGA, I'd rather talk about the four Masters he won, or the win he had at Cherry Hills or what he did at Birkdale. He's done so many great things, I like to look at that. Sure, the pessimist is going to look at all the things he hasn't done or I haven't done or anything else, but I don't choose to look at my career or anybody else's that way.
MODERATOR: Phil, thank you very much for joining us today. We wish you well this week.
PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.