- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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There is no foolproof, perfect way to prepare for a major championship. It is typically up to the individual, and all manner of approaches have seen success. Tiger Woods takes the week off before the Masters. Phil Mickelson (usually) likes to play a tournament the week prior. Both have won green jackets doing it their way.
With the year's first major championship looming, it is interesting to note the various modes of getting ready for the game's biggest tournaments, starting with Augusta National.
Following the Masters, the U.S. Open returns to Merion Golf Club, which has not held the tournament since 1981; the Open Championship revisits Muirfield in Scotland, where it was last played in 2002; and the PGA Championship heads back to Oak Hill Country Club, where it was last played in 2003.
For the first time since 2007 and only the third time since 1998, Mickelson is not playing the week prior to the Masters. It's not really by choice -- he loves the Shell Houston Open as a prep tournament -- he just feels this week's venue, the TPC San Antonio, is not conducive to proper preparation. Woods, meanwhile, is doing what he always does: working on his game at home, with a planned visit to Augusta National sometime this week.
"I think it's different for every guy," said Jason Dufner, who altered his approach starting with the 2011 PGA Championship -- where he lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley. "I'm pretty set with what I do. Obviously you want to be playing or practicing leading up to all of them.
"I like to not play tournaments before because it keeps me a little bit fresher mentally and physically. The Wednesday before, I go to the site of the major. I get on site and practice and play a lot of golf. Whether you play at a tournament or you are playing at home or play on site, you want to be playing golf.
"I try to learn the golf course, start hitting the shots you need, get familiar with site lines. Augusta is a little different because we play it every year. But I've never seen Merion, never seen Muirfield, never saw Olympic [the 2012 U.S. Open site] before last year. I just like to play a lot of golf and get comfortable with the shots I need."
Luke Donald is going with a different approach this year. The fourth-ranked player in the world, who has yet to win a major, said he still strives to find the right balance.
Because he didn't feel the Bay Hill Club would have set up well for him, he decided to take an opportunity to go overseas and played the Malaysian Open last week -- where for the first time in his career, he missed the cut in a regular European Tour event. He is expected to visit Augusta National this week.
"I've got to some major events a few weeks before and I don't feel like it's set up the same way as it is [for the tournament]," Donald said. "So I like to go as close to the event as possible."
Adam Scott has also recently made a habit of playing less leading into the major championships, especially the Masters. After playing the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Tampa Bay Championship, Scott did not play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, nor the Shell Houston Open -- where he is a past winner. He is also skipping this week's Valero Texas Open.
"I just [try to] balance. Nothing is set in stone," said Scott, who tied for second at the Masters two years ago and was second at last year's Open Championship. "I just try and balance where my game's at, what I'm feeling and if I'm competitive, and if I'm not. There's no point just going to a play a tournament for the sake of playing a tournament. I'm trying to go and play well every week, and sometimes I have to go and practice at home to get better so I can come back out and be competitive."
Then there is Jim Furyk, who is playing the Valero Texas Open -- even though he's never played TPC San Antonio -- because he believes the competitive aspect is an important part of his preparation.
"It's long, and every single shot you hit is very important," Kaymer said. "It takes a lot of focus. Mentally, it's very difficult. I did it in the past, where I played Houston the week before.
"But this year I'm taking off and going there early to prepare and not doing anything on Tuesday and Wednesday [during Masters week]. Maybe hit some balls, do some putting for an hour or so and leave. It's such a circus there. You don't want to do that too often."
Dufner is clearly onto something, and if nothing else, has a good time preparing for the majors.
Last year, prior to the Open Championship, he arrived in England eight days before the start of the tournament and played local links such as Royal Liverpool (site of next year's Open), Formby and Royal Birkdale before heading to Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the Open.
This year, Dufner is planning to play at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns before heading to Murifield on the Saturday before tournament week. That's a great summer vacation for some, a nice working vacation for Dufner.
"It allows me to practice the types of shots I need to practice," he said. "I go with my coach, a couple of friends. We have a good time."
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