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Phil Mickelson has an interested look

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Phil Mickelson welcomed the observers to his pro-am round at Quail Hollow Golf Club on Wednesday, and couldn't wait to tell them about the latest incarnation of his super-power driver.

The modified club, known affectionately as the "Phrankenwood," is 8 degrees, Lefty explained, followed by a dissertation on all of the technical reasons that go into making the club just right for him.

It takes spin off the ball; he can hit it straighter; technological gains over the years made this more difficult for him to do with a driver, to the point that he was hitting his 3-wood nearly as far.

On and on he went, Mickelson almost giddy at the prospects of playing with this driver.

Of course, on Thursday, Mickelson hit just six fairways in his opening round of 68 at the Wells Fargo Championship, and hit two horrible drives on his last two holes, one leading to his only bogey of the day, the second overcome by a good par-saving putt.

Phil being Phil.

And that's a good thing, really. Because when Mickelson is engaged, when he gets motivated because of something that inspires him, such as a new way to find more fairways, he remains one of the best in the game -- his near 59 earlier this year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open is a strong reminder.

"I'm hitting it as long and as straight with the driver as I ever have," Mickelson said. "At the Masters, I drove it great. My distance was back up there, my accuracy was back up there. And I expect to drive it extremely well the rest of the year."

Mickelson, ranked 11th in the world, turns 43 on June 16, the Sunday of this year's U.S. Open, at which point his 22nd year as a professional will commence. It was the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that Lefty began his pro journey, accumulating 40 titles since (he won once as an amateur in 1991) and four major championships.

Jim "Bones" Mackay has been around for nearly all of the journey, caddying for Mickelson for each of his pro titles, and says his man is as committed as ever.

"He just loves to compete," Mackay said. "He comes out to compete, loves to play. Even at home, he loves to compete."

Still, there are times when Mickelson, understandably, has the look of someone who prefers to be someplace else.

Two decades of playing golf around the world can make the routine tour stops seem a bit mundane. Mickelson also has had to deal with personal issues; his wife, Amy, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2009. His mother, Mary, also was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mickelson Rather than dwell on [the Masters], I had a couple of weeks off and I'm ready to move on.

-- Phil Mickelson

And Mickelson revealed in 2010, just a few months after winning the Masters, that he has psoriatic arthritis, with medication now helping to control the symptoms. Now, Mickelson rarely discusses it, never uses it as an excuse, but there is always the concern that it could be lurking.

And then there is the maddening inconsistency in his game.

The 60 in February at the TPC Scottsdale led to his 41st PGA Tour victory. But it was followed by some lackluster play. He tied for third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Despite early-week optimism, Mickelson tied for 54th at the Masters and never shot in the 60s.

"I had an off week," he said. "My short game was bad, my iron play was bad. Putting wasn't great. Yet I drove it OK. I just had kind of a funky week. Rather than dwell on it, I had a couple of weeks off and I'm ready to move on. I had a great couple of weeks of practice and feel really good about my game. I'm really excited about these next couple of weeks."

And that's important at this point in his career.

Mickelson went into the World Golf Hall of Fame a year ago, his legacy secure. Major championships, specifically the U.S. Open -- where he's been runner-up five times without a victory -- would seemingly be the only motivation now, especially for someone approaching $70 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour.

So when Mickelson gets excited about something in his game, that is a good sign.

"It is," after his five-birdie, one-bogey effort left him one stroke behind the leaders. "I like to hit shots, whether it's with irons, carving it certain ways to pins, changing trajectories and so forth. This driver allows me do that, to hit different shots. And it reacts the same as my irons.

"The feedback and feel is the same as my irons, so I'm optimistic that I'll have some good driving tournaments upcoming. I didn't drive it as well as I expected today, but it still feels pretty good."

Mickelson refrained from any talk about a new putting stroke or grip. And yet, that subject could be for another day.