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Mickelson to Make 2014 Season Start in Middle East


Phil Mickelson is making his first start of the year in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. The $2.7 million European Tour event starts Thursday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates.

The reigning British Open champion will be paired in the first round with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and defending Abu Dhabi champion, Welshman Jamie Donaldson. The 43-year-old Mickelson, ranked fifth in the latest world ranking, headlines a strong field, with McIlroy at No. 7.

Also playing are No. 3 Henrik Stenson - who won both the European Tour's Race to Dubai and the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup in 2013, and No. 10 Sergio Garcia.

After his appearance in the Middle East, Mickelson will return to his hometown of San Diego to make his season debut on the PGA Tour in the Northern Trust Open at Torrey Pines.

On Tuesday, Mickelson sat down with reporters to discuss his chances this week and how he's been prepared in advance of another year of top-level competition. Here's what the five-time major winner had to tell the media during the following Q&A.

MODERATOR: Phil, many thanks, as always for joining us. Give us your thoughts on returning here to Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm excited to be back here to Abu Dhabi. It's a great city, country, and we are all excited with what HSBC has done to bring world class golf to Abu Dhabi and the UAE. From a player standpoint and to start the year, it's important we start fundamentals and good foundation for our golf game. We have got great practice facilities here, as well as a golf course that can identify your strengths and your weaknesses. It's a world class course and in immaculate shape and you can easily identify where you're playing well and where you're not, and I'm excited to get back out on this golf course.

MODERATOR: Three wins last year, including a major championship, a rise up the World Rankings, what pleased you most about last year?

PHIL MICKELSON: Last year was a great year for me because of the breakthrough in winning the Open Championship. That was the highlight of my year certainly, and the tournament that was the most challenging throughout my career to play well in. I've really only had a couple of good chances to win that tournament, and to break through and play my best golf on Sunday, especially that back nine when I needed it, is the best feeling you could ask for. The one tournament that's been holding me back from the career Grand Slam now is the tournament that I've played very well in for many years, the U.S. Open, with six seconds, and I'm confident that I'll have many other chances to win that tournament. I hope to break through and get that career Grand Slam.

Q. I know it's January and everything, but is it already tempting to look forward to June and that great chance you'll have to get the career Grand Slam?

PHIL MICKELSON: June is a little bit far away. I'm looking forward to the Masters and our upcoming major championship and building a foundation for that. But I feel like to play well in the Masters, to play well in the U.S. Open, it's important to start the year right and get in contention, because you don't want to be in the final group Sunday of a major championship having not been in that position earlier in the year. The pressure is difficult and you need to be able to have confidence and experience dealing with that. So that's why it's important to play well on the West Coast on the U.S. Tour and to play well here in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour.

Q. You've become more of a global golfer over the past few years. The Open Championship, is being the Open champion, is that something you'll be even more conscious of going forward?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure how it will play out. I enjoy traveling and I enjoy it when my family comes. That's a big thing for me because playing global golf is more of an opportunity to expose myself and my family to the rest of the world and other new cultures and experiences. When they are able to travel, I anticipate playing more throughout the world. Unfortunately, they are not here this week. And they really enjoyed coming here in 2011; we loved our time here, and I wish that they were here. If I can get them to travel a little bit more, I anticipate playing more worldwide.

Q. Is that going to be because you want to cut down on your schedule and concentrate, U.S. Open, and probably even more so on the majors going forward? Is that balancing act going to become ever more difficult?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think for me what will happen is that like last year, it was towards the end of the year when I was playing nine out of 11 weeks, that my performance started to tail off, and I need to be aware of that. I don't anticipate many changes the first six, seven months of the year where I'm getting ready for the majors. I've developed a way to bring out my best golf out in those major championships, but I do need to be mindful of the fact that my performance started to tail off when I got tired towards the end and I have to make some adjustments.

Q. Any changes that we need to be aware of in your game or during the practice or in your equipment starting the new season?

PHIL MICKELSON: There's one thing that makes me very excited about 2014; and as I look back on 2013 I played some of my best golf and had some huge breakthroughs. But I did most of it without a driver. And this year, we have the best driver I've ever hit that lowers my pin rate just like my 3 wood. I drive it longer and straighter with my driver than I did with my 3 wood. It's a whole different weapon in my arsenal now. And if I drive the ball well, like I have been in practice and I have been this off season, heading into this 2014 season, could be the best year of my career for that simple reason.

Q. You mentioned that you've worked out how to best prepare for majors. What are the plans for this season? Do you know yet what your schedule is leading up to each one?

PHIL MICKELSON: I pretty much do. I'll play - I like to play weeks before the tournament, and so I'll anticipate doing the same thing this year; playing The Scottish Open before the British Open; playing the World Golf Championships in Akron the week before the PGA. I will play two weeks probably before the U.S. Open. I will play the Memorial and the Memphis tournament as I head to Pinehurst, and I'll play the Houston Open before the Masters just like I have been. I feel for me personally, it's not for everybody, but that's what allows me to get more into a competitive frame of mind heading into the major championships and to bring out my best golf.

Q. Your back nine at Muirfield, can you just recall just how special that was, and have you had a chance since then to watch it on video - I was going to say, DVD.

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I've watched some of the highlights of that last round, and it's a tournament that I'll cherish forever, that experience, I'll cherish forever. I hit some of my best shots, some of my best putts on that back nine, and absolutely I looked at the highlights. It's the tournaments that I end up losing that I don't watch (laughter).

Q. Is there a shot in particular that makes it really special?

PHIL MICKELSON: The shot I like to look at was the 5 iron shot I hit on 13. It was one of the best shots I hit all day, all week. That green is so tight; you saw players missing the green, huge margins, because the wind was so strong straight into you that any miss hit will lead to a huge, massive - a huge shot off line. And my ball - that ball just flew so tight to the pin and it ended up ten feet from the hole and I made that putt, and that's when I really felt the momentum change and it felt like it was my tournament if I wanted.

Q. I know it's probably hard for you to explain this without getting really technical and talking about center of gravity and everything, but you mentioned that you played with sort of a 2 and 3 wood for a lot of the year. What's so different about this new one that's got you so excited?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, for the same reason that the 3 wood last year became the best club of my bag, we took that technology with the driver and did the same thing. I spin the ball more than anybody, and so what happens is, they end up giving me a driver with 6, 7 degrees of loft to knock that spin off. Now what we did instead is I've got a driver with 9, 10 degrees of loft, that they have this gravity core that lowers the center of gravity and knocks off the spin. So I'm able to make the same swing as my 3 wood, the same swing as my irons and to get the ball to go nicely off the tee. Whereas, I always have to have a different swing with my driver to accommodate the fact that I had no loft. That's why I've struggled with the driver off the tee. It's because I have so much hand action and put so much spin on the ball. This year, the equipment now, it can be adjusted to accommodate my golf swing and I couldn't be more excited about this year.

Q. Have you any information on Royal Aberdeen, which is the venue for The Scottish Open this year? It's a bit different from Castle Stuart, but have you heard anything about it?

PHIL MICKELSON: Everything I've heard about it has been positive; is that it's one of the greatest links golf experiences you could have and that it's a very challenging, demanding test of golf, and that it's a great place to play prior to a British Open championship. And so everything that I've heard has been positive. I know that it's about 50 miles away from Castle Stuart, and I'll probably try to go play a round there at Castle Stuart. Castle Stuart to me is one of the best modern-day golf course designs that I've ever seen in that that course is playable under any conditions. The wind can come at any different angle, any strength and the golf course is playable and I think that that was a very well thought out course and I like spending time there.

Q. The change in the driver, does this result in you being able to hit the ball longer and straighter?

PHIL MICKELSON: That's it. That's exactly it; by getting the spin off the ball, I hit it much straighter because I don't have to manipulate the club. I just swing it.

Q. And how much longer?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I base it off of the 3 wood. The 3 wood goes a long ways for me and I'm able to get my driver 25 yards past my 3 wood now. Whereas before, my driver had so much spin that it would only go about eight or ten yards past it.

Q. Just wondered from your view inside the ropes, the data would suggest based on world rankings and the top players that are here, that they are doing something right at this tournament. What do you see that accounts for that that puts this thing so high up on the pecking order?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, HSBC really has done a great job in getting world-class golf here to Abu Dhabi. It starts with a great golf course. They really have a terrific test of golf here in immaculate shape with great practice facilities and it's at a perfect time of the year starting the year. We're here with great weather on a course that can really identify your strengths and weaknesses, and it just is a great place for all of us to get started.

Q. You said this could be the best year of your career and you're excited about it; to achieve that, would it have to be a win at Pinehurst to feel that way or would you take a second open and think it could still have panned out the way you wanted it to?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think any major championship would make the year special and memorable. And I do believe that I'll win a U.S. Open. I don't know if it's at Pinehurst this year. Very well could be, or in the future. But I play well in that tournament too often to not believe or be confident in my ability to close that tournament out. But any major championship would make 2014 a remarkable year.

Q. Rory said he wants two; if you have one, doesn't leave much more for the rest, does it.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, want and get are two different things (laughter).

Q. You said that playing golf globally made you a better player, and you started playing globally a little late in your career. Before you were not that focused on playing outside the states. But having experienced what you have experienced, what kind of advice do you give to youngsters like Jordan Spieth or Keegan Bradley to come more out from the states and play all around the globe?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I really feel, as I say to them; that golf is an individual sport, and you need to find out what works best for you as an individual. What works well for me may not be best for somebody else. And so it's our job as players to find out what works best for us. But for me personally, it was very difficult to travel with three little ones internationally. It was almost impossible. And that's why I didn't play much global golf. But as I got older, the opportunity to play golf in other countries and my kids to see other cultures and different parts of the world was a great opportunity, and travelling with them was quite easy. As we get older, though, they have so much going on after school and during school that it's hard to get them out of school to come here, other than the summers, and so those are the challenges that we are having as a family to play golf worldwide.

Q. After what Rory went through last year, what do you expect from him this year?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think he's going to have a great year, I really do. I think that he's too talented to have another year like last year. And you saw glimpses of his game being sharp with his win in Australia last year in December and I think he's going to have a great year.

Q. Would that be because of what he went through last year in terms of a learning experience?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know, we all have highs and lows. We all have good years and we all have years that are not up to our expectations, and usually that makes us more determined, which is what I see out of him.

Q. Where does being part of a winning Ryder Cup Team at Gleneagles rank among your 2014 goals?

PHIL MICKELSON: That would be - that would really be special. That would be a great opportunity. And I thought we had this last one and let it slide, a four point lead we let get away. I think that if we were able to come out on top that week, it would be something really good, for not just the United States, but also the tournament in general because we have not been faring well in that event.

Q. Looking at, Rory said towards the end of the year, that the most difficult thing he found in the year was people being so he focused on his private life. From your other experience looking at that, is that the hardest thing to adjust to when you gain a certain prominence in the sport, and how do you deal with it?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we all have different ways of dealing with things. And for me personally, I've really tried to stay away from social media for the reason that I need to get away and have some time on just my family, and there's some things that I don't like letting out. I just like keeping it private and it's been great for me to be able to come out on Tour and play competitive golf and accept the fact that we're in the public eye there; but also to have an opportunity to get away and have downtime. I had a great off season these last two months spending time with Amy and the kids. We went skiing, hung out, had some great vacations and I need that to get rejuvenated and excited. I think for me personally, staying out of social media has been a real benefit. But I also understand how powerful and what a great thing it can be for players.

Q. Just a quickie on the Ryder Cup. Any chance you'll get to Gleneagles the week of the Scottish Open or Open Championship to play the course?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't thought about it. I don't know. Probably not likely, because I'm spending so much time getting ready for the Scottish and the British those two weeks that I'll be there, that I wouldn't anticipate it. But I haven't really thought about it.

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