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    • Mickelson feels less pressure, practices patience

    • Phil Mickelson picked up his first career Open Championship win and fifth career major in 2013. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) Phil Mickelson picked up his first career Open Championship win and fifth career major in 2013. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

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    HOYLAKE, England -- A year ago, Phil Mickelson came to the United Kingdom wondering whether he would ever be able to win an Open Championship.

    After all, he had played in golf's oldest major 19 times and only had two top-10s to show for it. As it turned out, though, Mickelson ended up winning what many had felt would be the most difficult major championship for him to ever capture with a brilliant final-round 66 at Muirfield.

    So in what was an unusual Monday pre-tournament press conference, at least for a defending champion, Mickelson was quick to point out that a lot of the pressure he felt last year prior to that popular win in Scotland is gone.

    Or, is it?

    The World Golf Hall of Famer would be the first to admit he has had a decidedly subpar last 12 months. In the 21 PGA TOUR events he's played since winning The Open Championship, Mickelson has just one top-10 -- and that came when he tied for sixth at The Barclays last year.

    The 2013-14 season has been bleak. Mickelson's best finish on TOUR in 15 starts is 11th, accomplished twice, although he did tie for second at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship back in January.

    Since turning pro midway through the 1992 season -- a year after winning the Northern Telecom Open as an amateur, Mickelson has never gone this deep into the PGA TOUR season without cracking the top 10 spots on the leaderboard.

    "It obviously hasn't been a good year," he agreed. "Normally I would be discouraged or frustrated, but I'm just not."

    Mickelson is extraordinarily resilient, you see. He is the consummate glass-half-full kind of player, a penchant that has allowed him to prosper through the ebbs and flows of his two decades on TOUR.

    And in his mind right now, the parts of his game are better than the whole.

    "I don't know when it will all click together," he said. "I don't know if it will be in three weeks or a month, or what, but it should be soon. I feel like it's really close to being good.

    "And rather than trying to force it or press the issue, I'm going to be patient."

    Mickelson says he's particularly confident with his driver, although he's only hitting 58 percent of his fairways, which is about par for his course. He's adding a 2-iron this week, although he'll carry a driver and the decision on whether to use it will be "very situational" depending on the wind, pin placement and "how I'm feeling at the moment," he said.

    Granted, that relatively adventurous approach off the tee has never seemed to get in the way of Mickelson finding greens in regulation -- but he suffers from a lack of consistency once he gets there. After ranking sixth and 10th in strokes-gained putting, respectively, the last two years, Mickelson clocks in at 109th right now.

    The short irons, normally such a strength throughout the left-hander's career, have let him down this year, as well. But Mickelson says he saw signs of accuracy returning last week when he tied for 11th in his title defense at the Aberdeen Assets Scottish Open on the strength of a closing 65.

    "When you combine that, the scoring clubs, short iron (and) putter, it's going to lead to a bit of an off year," Mickelson said. "I know that would be the assumption but I believe that the next five years are going to be some of the best of my career."

    Mickelson has also done some work on his putting with Dave Stockton since that disappointing tie for 28th last month in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where his record run of six runner-up finishes began in 1999. He says he likes the direction Stockton has given him, and he expects to be more consistent week-in and week-out.

    "But we'll see," Mickelson said. "That's why we play the game. You just never know."

    He's looking forward to finding out this week at Royal Liverpool, though. 

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