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Mickelson looking to attack in Atlanta again

Jack Nicklaus won most of his 18 major championships by waiting for others to make mistakes.

Phil Mickelson doesn't buy that strategy.

Not with Tiger Woods around.

The world's second-best player doesn't have any majors to prove that his aggressive style is the only way to conquer Woods, but it certainly worked the last time the Tour Championship was held at East Lake Golf Club.

Two years ago, Mickelson trailed Woods and Vijay Singh by one stroke going into the final round when he closed with a 4-under 66 to win, becoming the first player in four years to win a tournament when Woods had at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

"Playing in the group in front of him gave me a bit of opportunity to get off to a quicker start and to push them to make birdies," Mickelson said Tuesday. "I shot 4 under the front nine. That forced them to make birdies to keep pace, and that allowed me to come out on top."

Woods is 28-2 on the PGA Tour when he's leading after three rounds. The only other player to have beaten him is Ed Fiori in the 1996 Quad City Classic, Woods' third tournament as a professional.

The only other players to come from behind are Lee Westwood (2000 Deutsche Bank) and Thomas Bjorn (2001 Dubai) on the European tour.

"To beat him when he's in the lead is something very difficult to do," Mickelson said Tuesday after his pro-am round at East Lake. "He doesn't make mistakes when he's in contention on Sunday."

Woods made plenty two years ago in the Tour Championship.

He failed to match Mickelson's birdie on the par-5 15th to fall behind, then took a bogey on the 17th hole by hitting from the bunker to shin-high grass left of the green.

"I was forced to be aggressive on the last couple of holes and hit a bad tee shot on 17," Woods said. "Yeah, I made a couple of mistakes, missed a few putts. I didn't play the back nine that well. That's probably what cost me."

They are the two main characters in a cast of 30 gathered at soggy East Lake for the season-ending Tour Championship, which starts Thursday.

Woods already has clinched the money title and every other significant award for the fourth consecutive year.

Mickelson wrapped up No. 2 on the money list for the third straight year, although he was surprised to hear he has won at least $4 million every year since 2000.

That's not the issue. Mickelson still hasn't won a major title, the standard of greatness in golf. He says all year long that he won't back away from his aggressive style, even in the major championships.

Jack who?

"Look at the way we've always thought the greatest player in the game attacked a major, which was Jack Nicklaus," Mickelson said. "He always said he would wait and wait and let other people fall back, and he would be right there to get the trophy at the end.

"That doesn't happen with Tiger any more," he said. "He doesn't make those mistakes. You have to go attack and make birdies and play some exceptional golf to win championships in which he's in the field."

It worked at the Tour Championship two years ago.

It just hasn't happened at a major.

Mickelson was loosely in contention twice this year - four strokes behind at the Masters and five strokes behind at the U.S. Open going into the last round.

Woods won his second straight green jacket when several contenders made critical mistakes trying to catch him. At Bethpage, he closed with a 72 - his first of eight major titles that he won with a final round over par.

Woods said he's not always at his best in the final round, despite a 30-4 record worldwide.

"It's a lot more than you might think," he said. "I haven't played particularly well on Sunday. But all you need to do is just keep holding it together, keep making your pars, and hopefully someone else will make a mistake. That's usually how it happens.

"Some days I'll go out there and play great," he said. "There are a lot more times when you don't really have it and you just need to gut it out."

It didn't work at East Lake two years ago in the Tour Championship.

He's done all right in the majors.


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