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Mickelson wants to finish season on high

If there is one player who enters this week's Presidents Cup on a down note for the Americans, then that player is Phil Mickelson.

No, Mickelson did not win a major championship this year, but that is nothing new. What was uncharacteristic about Mickelson's 2003 season is that he just did not win, period. His only top-three finish was at the Masters, which was also his fifth top-10 finish of the young season. From then on, he and his game virtually vanished.

Mickelson finished inside the top 10 only twice thereafter and he dropped all the way to 38th on the money list, failing to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in his career.

"I don't feel like there is pressure to get a win right away. What I feel is I want to get in contention more," said Mickelson in late July at the Greater Hartford Open. "I really haven't put myself in contention this year. I want to just start playing better as opposed to worrying about the result. I just want to start playing a little better and put myself in contention more."

He never did.

And now Mickelson is in George, South Africa, not only seeking to find his game, but looking to help the Americans win the Presidents Cup for the first time on foreign soil. He enters with a 6-7-5 record in four previous Presidents Cup appearances and is a healthier 14-12- 8 in international team play when his Ryder Cup record is factored in.

But finding one's game on a new course in a bit of an unusual format could be a daunting task for Mickelson, who has slipped to 13th in the world rankings.

"I think the golf course has a lot of great risk reward, I really do," he said Tuesday of The Links at Fancourt. "With five par-5s and all of those greens that are very difficult to where you can go at it and leave yourself an impossible up‑and‑down; and you're going to make 5, or you can make an eagle. You have two short par-4s, so there's seven holes that really are exciting holes. I think it will pose a very good test and have some very exciting turnarounds on the course."

Just how much of an impact Mickelson has on the American outcome remains to be seen. Of the 12 players on the roster, Mickelson's game appears to be the most out of kilter. His length would appear to be ideal on this course that measures over 7,400 yards, but length is not the only prerequisite.

"I think it rewards being strategic off the tees," teammate Tiger Woods said. "You have to pick your direction, but also the distance you want to hit the ball off the tee. Because a lot of the fairways tend to kind of narrow and widen, and you have to pick out which way, if you're going to fly it all the way in the wider part and lay it up short."

Therein lies part of the rub with Mickelson. While he ranked third in driving distance on Tour this season at 306 yards a pop, he ranked a jaw-dropping 189th on Tour in driving accuracy, hitting just 49 percent of his fairways. He ranked 107th in greens in regulation (64.8 percent), but the rest of his game appeared to be in order.

Tuesday, during one of two practice rounds before play opens on Thursday, Mickelson was paired with Chris DiMarco, an early indication that their games might best be suited for a four-ball pairing.

At the 2002 Ryder Cup, Mickelson teamed with current teammate David Toms in all four team matches, going 2-1-1 and providing some the American team's only highlights in that loss.

Whatever his role, Mickelson believes he and his teammates are up to the challenge that awaits. He was on the 1998 team that was ambushed by the Internationals 20.5-11.5 down in Australia -- a team also captained by this year's captain, Jack Nicklaus -- and does not want a repeat.

"I think the International Team is obviously very strong," he said Tuesday. "We would like to win the Cup back, or keep the Cup, I guess. But it will be challenging. When we went to Australia in '98, we did not play our best. So we are looking on it as a real challenge for us to bring out our best game and put up good matches.

"We have only lost it one time, I believe, and we'd like to keep it that way. Although, it will be difficult."

Especially if Mickelson is not up to snuff.

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