Phil Mickelson hopes to put the missed cut at the Greenbrier Classic behind him as he prepares for next week’s British Open with some links play in the Scottish Open.
Mickelson, who came up short for the third straight year in West Virginia, following his heartbreaking runner-up finish at the U.S. Open in June, shared second place in the 2011 Open Championship. Except for one other top-10 in 19 starts (third place in 2004), however, the popular southpaw has never really been in contention in the third major of the season.
"I think it would be one of my greatest accomplishments to be able to conquer links golf and to win an Open Championship over here,” Mickelson told reporters on Wednesday from Scotland. “Although I've come close maybe twice, I have not really played my best golf.
"I think I've identified a couple of reasons why but it's time to play now,” he said. “It's time to shoot the scores and hit the shots that I've spent 20 years working on."
As one of only two Americans (and the only golfer among the world’s top 10) starting this week in Scotland, Mickelson believes navigating a similar landscape can only help his chances at Muirfield.
“Playing Castle Stuart gives me a great opportunity to be competitive against a world-class field on a links course the week before the Open,” Mickelson said earlier this week.
Defending British Open champ Ernie Els concurred.
“I love playing golf in Scotland, and especially links golf, so it’s exciting returning to Castle Stuart for this week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open,” Els wrote in a recent PGA Tour blog post. “Not only does it feel like the perfect preparation for the Open, it’s also a tremendous tournament in its own right.”
For sure, Mickelson, who has recently made a big deal about the importance of playing the week before a major on a course to his liking, can use all the help he can get on the 7,245-yard, par-70 track in East Lothian. The only time he played Muirfield in competition, the world’s eighth-ranked player struggled to a tie for 66th in the 2002 Open Championship.
With time to kill after that MC at Greenbrier, Mickelson also intended to get in some practice rounds at Muirfield prior to this week’s tilt.
“I’m planning on it,” he told GolfChannel.com’s Jason Sobel. “I’m going to try to. I’ll head over there for the Scottish and maybe slide over for a day Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday -- I’m not sure -- over to the British.”
It’s been a year of emotional highs and lows for the 43-year-old from San Diego. In addition to a win at the Phoenix Open and four other top-3 results (including that T2 at Merion), Mickelson has missed two cuts and recorded a distant T54 at the Masters.
As with all things Phil, it's almost impossible to predict how he’ll do as a follow-up in a major after the anguish of yet another second-place finish in yet another U.S. Open, though the golfer downplayed the aftermath of losing the lead in the tourney finale and noted that he was happy with his game.
"I don't want to diminish it, because it takes a while, and it hurt," Mickelson said about Justin Rose taking his place in the winner's circle at Merion. "But part of professional golf is dealing with losing and dealing with disappointment and being resilient and using it as a stepping stone.
"One of the things that came about for me the week before at Memphis and at the U.S. Open is that I started to play really well. My putting feels better than it has in years," he said. "So rather than look at it as a failure, I want to use it as an opportunity to take advantage of where my game has got in these last few months and try to have a great second half of the year, starting here in the Scottish Open and the Open as well as the U.S. PGA Championship and our FedEx Cup back in the U.S."
While Mickelson blamed the elevation at The Old White TPC for messing with the distance control of his irons, he will be playing at sea level the next two weeks so altitude will not be an issue. Nor will the health of the World Golf Hall of Famer who’s looking for his fifth major championship. He won his fourth at Augusta in 2010 after learning he had psoriatic arthritis but has never used the ailment as an excuse for less-than-stellar outings.
"At 43, I feel as good as I've ever felt," Mickelson said Saturday at Merion. "I feel like I'm in better shape than I've been in years. I feel stronger than I've been, more flexible. And I've had no injuries or aches or pains."
Mickelson, by the way, has fared not so well at the Scottish Open either, though he went on to share second place at the British after a T58 at Castle Stuart in 2011.
This year, though, could be Mickelson’s year.
"As players, we have to adapt to that and make that a strength of our game,” he said. “The last eight or nine years I've started to play better golf on links courses, better golf in bad weather, better golf along the ground. But it is still a challenge for me. It's not something I grew up doing and it's still something that I'm trying to learn as I continue through my career.
“I'm always cautiously optimistic,” said Mickelson.
The Scottish Open begins Thursday at Castle Stuart, with The Open Championship set for July 18-July 21 at Muirfield.