- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

HOYLAKE, England — Phil Mickelson would like the golf world to think he’s prepared to challenge at this week’s 135th British Open.

He has thoroughly scouted Hoylake, just as he did Winged Foot, playing better than 10 practice rounds at the 7,258-yard, par-72 links on the Wirral Peninsula. Undoubtedly, he noted the trash bins and hospitality tents that offer the best approaches to Royal Liverpool’s greens.

And he claims he’s emotionally recovered from the final-hole, double-bogey debacle that cost him last month’s U.S. Open.

“You know, there was a long time where I wasn’t really proud of my performance in the majors. But the last couple of years, I’m pretty proud of that. So, again, one bad hole isn’t going to change the way I look at it.”

That might be believable, but it’s hard not to wonder whether a scar was born at Winged Foot, if such a spectacular meltdown in the moment would leave a permanent gash of doubt in the Mickelson psyche.

But when a man begins his major career with a talent-belying 0-for-46 skid in the majors, perhaps he becomes accustomed to dealing with credulity-galling failures. His 3-for-10 run in the majors since, which also includes three silvers and a torrid 1-1-2 current skein, certainly would lead such a player to perceive his pint as considerably more than half full.

But then there’s Mickelson’s less-than-rousing resume on the links. In 13 trips to the British Open, the left-hander has just one top-10 finish. That was a bronze at Troon two years ago, when the customary British elements took a vacation, leaving the field to contend with little more than a whisper of wind.

Mickelson’s game simply doesn’t translate in the wind. And is that any wonder for a man who plays a 50-yard controlled cut off the tees and has been known to carry a 64-degree wedge? A lob wedge is about as useful on a links course as a case of the shanks.

Of course, Lefty claims he has solved his wind issues:

“It wasn’t until 2004 that I really understood the technique of hitting the ball properly into the wind. … That was the first year that I felt I knew how to hit the ball low and control those shots.”

Apparently, Phil remembers a less balmy, more breezy tenure at Troon than the one recorded in the local almanac because “those shots” weren’t required two years ago.

Of course, Phil could catch a Troonesque break from the weather this week. Hoylake is in the midst of an epic heat wave. The thermometer touched 98 degrees yesterday, and the R&A; is begging patrons to refrain from smoking in fear the parched, brittle rough will catch fire. Now, that would create a formidable hazard for errant tee shots.

At present, the fairways have achieved a firmness that would shame the tarmac at Heathrow, and a cannonball wouldn’t leave a pitch mark in the greens.

Overnight rains are expected to sprinkle the layout before today’s opening round. But the overall forecast for the remainder of the week calls for warm, dry weather and only a mild wind.

So Mickelson couldn’t ask for more favorable conditions for his game — light winds and wispy rough. And given his extraordinary length, the prospect of four easily reachable par-5s is also tantalizing.

But there’s a reason bookmakers have him listed at 11-1, surprisingly long odds for a player who should be teeing it up for a shot at a Mickelslam.

They don’t believe Phil has proved a thing about his ability to play links golf, and neither should fans.

Fact is, Mickelson is the consummate American stylist, a mortar-trajectory specialist who would choose a flop shot over a bump-and-run any day. An equipment junkie, dual-driver Phil couldn’t be any further removed from the legends of British lore; players like amateur Harold Hilton, who won the first of Hoylake’s 10 Opens in 1897 by steering a marshmallow around the property with little more than two clubs.

Mickelson is the anti-Hilton, a punch shot-spurning modernist to the core. And that game simply has never played in the Olde Country.

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