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Mickelson looking to kick start Open chance

Phil Mickelson is hoping a visit to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond can help him finally shake off one of the least enviable tags in golf - the best player never to have won a major.

The American left-hander is one of the leading drawcards in a star-studded field for the £2.2 million Scottish Open which tees off on Thursday.

And he is hopeful that a good performance on one of the most spectacularly located courses on the planet can provide a launchpad for an assault on next week's Open at Royal St Georges at Sandwich.

Mickelson's best performance in the British was in 2000 when he tied for 11th.

"It was also the only time I played Loch Lomond the week before," Mickelson said.

"I know that I play my best when I play the week before a major and that this gives me the best opportunity to be competitive in this year's Open."

Despite the upbeat tone, the omens do not look good for Mickelson. The wizard with a wedge has yet to win this year and has even lost his unofficial title as the world's best leftie - a position now occupied by Canada's Mike Weir, surprise winner of the US Masters in April.

Unsurprisingly, the bookmakers see Ernie Els as the man to beat. The world No.2 will play this week refreshed after a two-week break and is relishing the prospect of getting teed up again on one of his favourites prospects.

"It's absolutely beautiful, even more so if the weather turns out to be good," Els said.

The South African was not so fond of the course after performing indifferently in the heavy rain which blighted last year's tournament.

But after going on to win the British Open at Muirfield the following week, he is happy to be back for another crack at adding to his 2000 triumph.

"Twelve months on, my game is in a lot better shape and I hope to put in a strong performance. Having had two weeks off I'm feeling fresh and raring to go."

To win, Els will have to beat the strongest field assembled for any European tour event this season - with the exception of the British Open.

Former US Masters champion Freddie Couples had to withdraw with a back injury but the field still boasts a total of six major winners - Els, compatriot Retief Goosen, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sandy Lyle, Tom Lehman and John Daly.

Also looking to find some form ahead of next week will be local favourite Colin Montgomerie, the 1999 winner, US amateur champion Ricky Barnes and defending champion Eduardo Romero.

The Argentinian became the third oldest winner of a European tour event when he won a play-off with Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson to win last year.


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