Phil Mickelson: I'm playing better

Updated: September 26, 2012, 8:33 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- There was a time this summer when Phil Mickelson was going through the worst slump of his PGA Tour career and wondered if he'd be a part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Mickelson did make it, and he's the most veteran member on this year's squad, having played in every Ryder Cup starting in 1995, when he went 3-0 in a U.S. loss to Europe. Coupled with his eight Presidents Cup appearances, this will mark 17 consecutive years of international competition for Mickelson.

"I have realized over time how much I look forward to these events, how much I love the Ryder Cup, how much I love being a part of the team and how much I want to play and compete," Mickelson said Wednesday after a practice round at Medinah Country Club, which will host the event starting Friday.

"It's a great motivator to play well. And fortunately in the FedEx Cup, it gave me an opportunity to get my game sharp and to have some good finishes and to have some momentum heading in here. But, certainly, I was concerned because I went through a little bit of a lull through the season, and I'm glad to feel and see that I'm starting to play a lot better."

Mickelson, 42, captured his 40th PGA Tour title in February -- he shot a final-round 64 at Pebble Beach while paired with Tiger Woods -- and then lost in a playoff the following week. He missed a playoff by two shots at the Masters and finished third.

But starting at the Memorial in June, Mickelson had a career-worst stretch on the PGA Tour of 10 consecutive rounds over par. He barely made the cut at the U.S. Open and then missed it at the Open Championship.

He later posted consecutive top-5 finishes in the FedEx playoffs and ended up fifth overall in the standings after finishing tied for 15th at the Tour Championship last Sunday.

Mickelson hopes to continue that good play in the Ryder Cup, where he has mostly struggled of late. Despite starting 3-0 back in 1995, his overall record is just 11-17-6.

Mickelson and Jim Furyk are the only players on this year's squad who have played on two winning teams, and along with Tiger Woods, that trio represents the only Americans who have competed in more than two Ryder Cups.

"I think over the years, looking back, we have not played our best when we have focused on trying to win the Ryder Cup," Mickelson said. "We've played our best when we've had fun, enjoyed each other's company, and enjoyed the competition, embraced the gallery and felt the momentum, kind of like in 2008 with Zinger (then-captain Paul Azinger).

"I think for us to do well, we've got to feel the presence of the crowd here in Chicago. We need the support. We need that momentum. We need that energy and that they provide for us to play our best golf. I don't know if it'll be enough. It's a tough European team. But I think they're going to help us play well."

If the practice rounds have been any indication, Mickelson need not worry about the fans.

"It was basically like a Sunday crowd at a major," said Keegan Bradley, who is likely to pair with Mickelson on Friday. "Pretty special atmosphere, pretty intense, and I assume come Friday these fans are going to be ready."

Mickelson, who is just 3-12-3 in his last four Ryder Cups, hopes the enthusiasm of a first-timer such as Bradley will rub off on him.

"I'm going to be playing a lot with Keegan Bradley, it's no secret there," Mickelson said. "It's fun because this is his first event, first team event. He is so excited, and that exuberance and energy that he brings, you feed off of it."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com