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Phil Mickelson hopes things start looking up for him at Southern Hills. (Photo: Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson hopes things start looking up for him at Southern Hills. (Photo: Getty Images)

Though still not 100 percent, Mickelson ready to battle

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Despite sliding into the season's final major at Southern Hills in somewhat of a slump, Phil Mickelson says his ailing left wrist is better than it's been in a long time. Still, Lefty says, "I haven't been able to perform the way I want to."

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

TULSA, Okla. -- It's all a matter of perspective.

Yes, this week's PGA Championship is the final major of the year. And the much-anticipated inaugural PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup are just two weeks on the horizon.

But Phil Mickelson, who tends to close up shop to spend time with his family after the PGA, feels like he's just starting the second half of his season.

Sure, he's played 17 events already this year. Thanks to a nagging wrist injury, though, suffered when hitting out of the rough during a practice round at Oakmont, Mickelson's performance in the last five has left something to be desired.

He had to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament after damaging his wrist the previous weekend. Then, wearing a brace to protect the wrist, he missed the cut at the U.S. Open, and later did the same at AT&T National and the British Open.

"I feel like I've missed a few months," said Mickelson, who comes to Southern Hills on the heels of a tie for 46th at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.

"Even though I've been playing, I haven't really been able to work on my game. I haven't been able to perform the way I want to."

Frustration doesn't really capture his emotion. Mickelson had been extremely pleased with the progress he had made with new swing coach Butch Harmon before that untimely swipe from the rough.

After all, he'd just won THE PLAYERS Championship, a star-studded tournament Mickelson has played in 14 times now with just two other top-10 finishes. Not to mention, the victory, his second of the season, returned him to No. 2 in the world.

"That's such a big event to us as players, and I had not ever played well there," he admitted. "So to overcome that hurdle as well as see some improvement in my ball striking was very exciting."

Suddenly, Mickelson found himself taking cortisone shots and wearing Lydocaine patches on the back of his hand to numb the pain, just so that he could play golf. He couldn't hit balls like he wanted to fine-tune what he and Harmon were working on.

Finally, though, the wrist injury has improved to the point that Mickelson was able to practice last week without wearing a patch. He was able to hit balls for several hours daily, while tackling a South Course at Firestone that had all the trappings of a major championship.

"I've been able to put more time in my game now in the last week or two than I have in the last three months," said Mickelson, adding that the doctors say he's probably two weeks away from being 100 percent. "So I'm really excited about getting back out and playing. I'm excited about the upcoming FedExCup series, but especially excited about trying to play well here at Southern Hills.

"Now, I haven't played well in the last couple of months, but I also haven't been able to practice. So I'm hoping that given a different practice regime and being able to work on my game, I'm hoping to have a much better performance."

Mickelson has had success in Tulsa before, which is further reason for optimism. He finished third when the 1994 PGA Championship came to Southern Hills and tied for seventh in the 2001 U.S. Open.

"I think that this course just tests players very well, and it is similar to what we've had in the past," the 2005 PGA champ said. "The reason I think I've played well here is that the grass is grasses I've grown up, the same stuff I've had in my backyard chipping.

"Even though the rough is thick and tough, it's hard to get the ball close to the hole around the greens, you can hit shots and get it close if you know how to play them. And because I grew up on those grasses, I think I've been able to salvage par and save strokes better here than on some other courses."

Mickelson, after a 0-42 stretch to begin his career, has now won a major each of the last three years. Southern Hills represents his final chance of the year, although the 37-year-old sees things slightly differently than some might.

"I feel like this was the fourth year that I've already won it," he said with a grin. "I'd love to double up and win two. But ... we look at THE PLAYERS a little differently. That was one of the big events that I was gunning for."

Once the PGA is over, the next major is six months away. This year, though, Mickelson's interest has been piqued by the four Playoffs, and he says he intends to compete in them all to have a chance at the $10 million bonus.

"I think this year is going to be a little different. I think there's going to be some interest in those last four events," Mickelson said. "And I think that will help keep players focused, myself especially, after the PGA."

Mickelson's desire to continue playing is higher than in the past for several reasons. He says he feels more physically fit. He's disappointed by his play of late and wants to see if he can regain the form that marked the first half of his season.

"I am looking forward and wanting to play more competitive golf," Mickelson said. "So with those four being kind of the last big push, I'm expecting and looking forward to playing those events."

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