Mickelson feeling complete after Open triumph

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Only 11 golfers have won more.

But don’t get him wrong _ he’s driven to complete a career Grand Slam, merely lacking a victory in the U.S. Open, where he’s been the runner-up a record six times.

“I feel as though I started to play my best golf in the last four, five, six months,” he said. “I feel like I’ve keyed in on two areas that I’ve struggled with for years, which is putting and off the tee. I feel very confident in my ability to get the ball in play off the tee, and I feel very confident in my ability on the greens now.

“I’ve turned weaknesses into strengths,” he went on, “and this serves me well in major championships. I feel like now the major championships are possibly the easiest ones for me to be in contention and maybe even win.”

At home in California, Mickelson had a practice facility built right in his yard, allowing him to work on shots when there’s nothing on the line, no fans shouting his name.

“I enjoy walking out after dinner and hitting some putts and hitting some chips and hitting some balls,” he said. “I find it very calming and very serene being out there doing what I’ve always loved to do.”

He’s still fending off the next generation, giving players who aren’t even half his age a lesson in how this profession is supposed to work _ on and off the course. If it means spending a good half-hour or more signing autographs after a practice round, as Mickelson did Tuesday for the throngs clamoring for a piece of him on a warm, sunny day at Oak Hill _ well, that’s part of the game, too.

“He’s a guy that I’ve always looked up to, been a fan of,” said 20-year-old Jordan Spieth. “I don’t know anybody who is not a fan of Phil.”

Well, maybe one.

When Tiger Woods was asked about their personal relationship, he danced around the question as much as possible before finally closing with a terse “it’s been a lot of fun.” Mickelson was more gracious, conceding his record doesn’t come close to matching Woods and those 14 major titles, marveling at his rival’s remarkable consistency over a professional career that’s approaching two decades.

“He’s a great motivator for me. He’s helped me work hard,” Mickelson said. “He’s helped me put forth the effort to try to compete at the highest level year in and year out, and I’ve loved competing against him. He’s really brought the best out of me, especially when we’ve been paired together, and I hope that we are able to play together for many more years.”

They’re certainly not going anywhere at the moment.

While Woods is mired in the longest major drought of his career, he’s won five times this year on the PGA Tour, is ranked No. 1 in the world, and is coming off a seven-shot victory at the Bridgestone. Mickelson is right behind him in the rankings, two exquisite players who have been the face of American golf for so long.

“I’m as motivated as ever to compete and to play and get the best golf out of me, to hopefully play against Tiger when he’s playing his best,” Lefty said. “That would ultimately be the goal _ I play as well as I can at the same time he’s doing the same.

“I would love that opportunity.”

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