Continued from page 1

“That interpersonal relationship that golf provides _ the kind many other sports don’t, being in a stadium setting _ is really one of our greatest assets in this sport. The ability to play pro-ams and interact with regular amateur golfers. The ability to have personal contact with fans after the round or beforehand. All that really makes the game of golf great.”

Of course, greatness inside the ropes is defined by major titles. For Mickelson, who has captured three green jackets at Augusta along with a PGA Championship, there would be no better place to win another than this place.

“A career just doesn’t feel complete unless you’ve won here at St. Andrews,” Mickelson said. “I think all the players feel the same way.”

It would be quite a feat to top what happened in April, when Lefty locked up another Masters titles and was greeted just off the 18th green by his wife Amy, who’s been battling breast cancer. Their touching embrace was a striking contrast to Tiger Woods’ sordid personal life, rocked by reports of affairs with numerous women.

Mickelson followed up with another strong showing at the U.S. Open, winding up three strokes behind Graeme McDowell.

Now, it’s on to St. Andrews, where Mickelson will get another shot at claiming the third leg of a career Grand Slam, an accomplishment that would truly push him into a class as one of the greats of the game. He’s also got a chance to snare the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, which has belonged to Woods for more than five years.

While Mickelson brushed off having any extra motivation to supplant his longtime rival in the top position, he did concede it would mean a lot to see his name at the head of the list for the first time in his career.

“Oh, no, I care,” he said. “If I were to accomplish that in my career _ and I have some chances here _ it would be something. Whether it was for one week or a month or a year, however long, just to be able to say you did it, especially in Tiger’s era, it would be incredible.”

Mickelson turned 40 last month, so he might have more prime years behind him than in front of him. He also knows that Woods’ inconsistent play since returning from five months off to deal with the sex scandal isn’t likely to last much longer.

“I know that my window of opportunity is small because Tiger is going to start playing some of his better golf here soon, so I’ve got to get my butt in gear,” he said. “I’m going to try hard to do that this week.”

No matter how he plays, though, Mickelson will set aside some time for his pen.

His fans are sure to be waiting.