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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Phil Mickelson plans new approach


SANDWICH, England -- Phil Mickelson sounds as if he is trying to talk himself into liking the Open Championship and all the complexities that go with playing links golf.

In 16 appearances at the world's oldest tournament, Lefty has just one top-10 finish.

Mickelson
In his surefire Hall of Fame career, Phil Mickelson has just one top-10 at a British Open.

It is a stunningly poor record for a Hall of Fame player who has won four majors and 39 PGA Tour events.

But Phil being Phil, he is taking a new approach to this year's championship at Royal St. George's.

"I'm entering this year kind of like a fresh start,'' Mickelson said after a practice round Tuesday. "I'm not going to worry about past performances, and I'm going to try to learn and enjoy the challenge of playing links golf. And I'm having fun doing that. I'm trying to pretend like it's my first time here and appreciate playing the ball on the ground on days like this and appreciate being able to play some through the air when the wind is a little bit calmer.''

The obvious question is why Mickelson didn't have this revelation sooner.

Tuesday was one of those days when you cannot succeed playing the typical American style of golf. The wind howled, meaning that at the par-3 11th hole, Mickelson was unable to reach the green with a driver. Likewise on the par-4 17th hole, which measures 426 yards, Mickelson's drive went 380 yards. Dustin Johnson came up just short on 17.

That is links golf at its finest, and for some reason, Mickelson, at age 41, has fought the common theory on how to play such a layout.

"I'm really coming to enjoy and appreciate the challenges that links golf provides, and I've always enjoyed it,'' he said. "I haven't necessarily done it very well. Haven't performed very well.

"But I feel much better on the greens. Like, the one area that I've felt has held me back over the years is my putting on some of the fescue type greens, and I had a good week last week [at the Barclays Scottish Open] in that I started to putt better on these greens. I feel very confident heading into this Open Championship on the way I'm going to read and putt the greens. So I'm hoping that that goes well and ultimately gives me an opportunity on the weekend to compete and contend.''

Since winning the Shell Houston Open the week prior to the Masters, Mickelson's best finish is a tie for ninth at the Wells Fargo Championship. He tied for 54th at the U.S. Open and tied for 58th last week at the Barclays Scottish Open.

At the Open Championship, his best finish was third, a shot out of a playoff, at the 2004 Open played at Royal Troon. That year, Mickelson contended in all four major championships, but he's not been an Open contender since, his best result a tie for 19th in 2008 at Royal Birkdale.

"I'm trying to go in here as though it's a first time,'' he said. "I'm trying to pretend I've never played here before and I'm just trying to learn it all from the start, from scratch.

"So I don't think I can say I'm going in confidently; I'm going in with an open mind on some of the new ideas to play the course and hopefully play it effectively.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.