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Phil Mickelson, caddie Jim Mackay (left) and coaches Butch Harmon (front) and Dave Pelz (rear) liked what they saw on the seventh tee at Carnoustie Tuesday. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson, caddie Jim Mackay (left) and coaches Butch Harmon (front) and Dave Pelz (rear) liked what they saw on the seventh tee at Carnoustie Tuesday. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Mickelson optimistic despite playoff loss on Sunday

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Forget that Phil Mickelson bogeyed No. 18 twice at Loch Lomond to lose the Scottish Open last Sunday. Remember, he says, that he played well enough to contend. Now, if he can just get that wayward driver to cooperate at Carnoustie ...

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Phil Mickelson is your quintessential glass-half-full-kind of guy.

So it's hardly surprising that Mickelson prefers to dwell on the fact that he got himself into contention at the Barclays Scottish Open last weekend -- rather than the fact that he bogeyed the 18th hole not once, but twice, on Sunday to lose.

"I needed to feel what it feels like to be in the final group on Sunday with a chance to win," explained the man who won THE PLAYERS Championship in May, but has missed two cuts and withdrawn once while battling a sore wrist in the interim.

" ... So I'm pleased that I put myself in that position. I would have liked to have finished it off better, certainly, but the fact that I had a chance I think helps me this week."

And this week finds Mickelson at Carnoustie, nestled on the east coast of Scotland, to play in the Open Championship, which -- more than any of the other three majors, even in his 0-47 drought -- has been his biggest nemesis.

He's won the Masters twice and the PGA Championship once. Mickelson even has four runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, where he painfully squandered a chance to win on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in 2006.

The Open Championship is another story, though. Mickelson only has one top-10 finish in 14 starts at the grand dame of them all. That came in 2004 at Royal Troon when he finished one shot out of the playoff between Ernie Els and Todd Hamilton.

Mickelson first played links golf in 1991 at Portmarnock in Dublin when he was a member of the victorious U.S. Walker Cup. As a kid, though, he watched the Open Championship on TV, and he liked the creative style of golf immediately.

"Saturday morning cartoons got replaced by The Open," Mickelson recalled. "I enjoyed watching it as a kid and all through my amateur days. It's fun to be able to partake in it and play in it.

"The great thing about The Open is that it shows that a player who's won it has a game that can be tested by elements and by different shots and by hitting shots along the ground as well as in the air. I think that tests a complete player's game."

When he's played in an Open Championship, Mickelson's challenge, not surprisingly, has been off the tee. He's been working with drivers that keep the ball low, away from the clutches of the capricious and changing winds. He's even learned to embrace those whims of Mother Nature.

"It's taken time for me to appreciate and learn how to hit shots that are manageable in those conditions," Mickelson admitted. "As I start to be able to control my golf ball ... I start to enjoy it and hope for tough weather."

Mickelson came to Carnoustie with his brain trust -- short game guru Dave Pelz and swing coach Butch Harmon -- after missing the cut at the AT&T National at Congressional. He got in several practice rounds before heading to Loch Lomond, and Mickelson liked what he saw.

"The difference here is that the game plan changes based on the wind," he said. "Each hole goes from a birdie hole to just trying to make a par, based on the wind. You don't know exactly how you're going to attack the course until you actually get on the course. And even then the wind often changes and the holes change.

"You have to come up with three or four different ways to play it based on the three or four different winds that we'll see."

The ever-analytical Mickelson, who was applauded by the fans at the 18th hole on Tuesday when he spent about 15 minutes signing autographs there, said he wasn't concerned by the wayward drives he hit Sunday at the Barclays Scottish Open.

The 72nd hole at Loch Lomond -- and ensuing playoff there -- did Mickelson no favors. His first drive found the right rough and the second during the playoff skidded into the reeds on the left. The glass-half-full guy sees those as the exception, not the rule, though.

"I had a good conversation last night with Butch and we talked about a couple of things that we wanted to do with clubs off the tee and shots and how to take certain places out of play," he said. "Then we had a good session this morning on the range as we went out and played.

"So I think it's still a work in progress. It's not going to be where I want it after just three months, but it's coming and I think that in time I'll continue to get better. "

Mickelson missed the cut when the Open Championship last visited Carnoustie in 1999, shooting rounds of 79 and 76. So he was circumspect when asked to compare the set-up eight years ago with the one the players confront this week.

The 1999 tournament is, though, a distance memory for him. In the here and now, Mickelson likes the challenge of carrying those gaping bunkers set 30 and 40 yards from green. He feels there's some leeway to take the ball in high and soft, even when the winds intervene. He sees places to attack, as well as ample space around the greens to utilize his vaunted short game.

"The course is giving players a chance to separate themselves from other players because of the quality of shots that are being required and the way that it incorporates all shots in a player's game," Mickelson said.

Now, if that driver will just cooperate ...

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