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Mickelson looking to refine his game

Phil Mickelson is one of 37 players who have earned more than $1 million in prize money on this year's PGA Tour, but the talented left-hander is rapidly losing ground in the world rankings.

At the end of 2002, Mickelson was firmly established as the world number two, albeit some distance behind the dominant Tiger Woods.

Since then, however, the man widely regarded as the best current player not to have won a major title has slipped to ninth, his lowest position since May 14 2000.

The 33-year-old American has been criticised this season for focusing too much on raw power off the tee and not enough on accuracy, and he now realises he needs to refine his approach to the game.

"The way I played is similar to the way I have played all year -- good enough to make the cut, but not good enough to get into contention," he told reporters, after tying for 55th at the U.S. Open earlier this month.

"I'll reflect on the week and see what areas I need to focus on for the final two majors (of the year)."

During the build-up to the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, Mickelson felt he was close to finding the perfect blend of attack and defence to mount a genuine challenge.

He has often been taken to task over his aggressive strategy at major championships, but he exuded confidence about his game plan for the 103rd U.S. Open.

"I have tried to be patient in the (U.S.) Opens, not to try anything extravagant, knowing that the players are not going to run it high," he said.

"And that has been a strategy that has got me in contention," added Mickelson, who had finished runner-up at the U.S. Open twice in the previous four years.

"My driving statistics accuracy-wise have never been great, but the weeks of the U.S. Open they've always been pretty good.

"The reason is you see me hit a lot of big cuts, just like I did last year, to get the ball in play.

"It's not as though I feel it's a regular tour event, where I just go ahead and hit it. I actually try to shape a shot and hit the fairway, and I'm taking 20 yards off the potential tee shot."

As it happened, Mickelson failed in his bid for greater accuracy at Olympia Fields, hitting just 20 fairways during the week for scores of 70, 70, 75 and 74. Hardly surprisingly, this prompted his decision to refine his approach.

The marked difference between Mickelson's power and accuracy is reflected by the latest PGA Tour statistics.

While he ranks fourth in driving distance this season with an average of 303.9 yards, he is a lowly 179th in driving accuracy with a woeful percentage of 47.7.

The greens in regulation category is an accurate barometer of a player's general form, and here Mickelson ranks 73rd with a percentage of 65.8.

Butch Harmon, swing coach to world number one Tiger Woods among others, accused Mickelson earlier this year of becoming obsessed with distance.

"It's pathetic really," he said. "All he thinks about is how far he hits it.

"I told him he was never going to win a major with the philosophy he had and, if he wanted to win a major, he would have to put his ball on the fairway more and on the green more, and then he would have a chance."

This year, Mickelson has produced five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, including a highly creditable third at the U.S. Masters. But he is yet to win a title and, for a player of his rich talent, that is not acceptable.

As he prepares for next month's British Open at Royal St George's and August's U.S. PGA Championship at Oakhill Country Club, Mickelson is almost certain to be taking Harmon's advice close to heart.

 

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