Mickelson hoping to continue US dominance
American Phil Mickelson is hoping history repeats itself this week when he chases the Open championship at Royal Troon.
The last five Opens to be held in Troon have all been won by Americans -- Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997) -- and this year should be more of the same.
The 34-year-old Mickelson always believed he was a major winner but it was only this year, when he won arguably one of the greatest finishes in Masters history, that he knew it.
Two months later he was within two holes of adding the US Open title as he went head-to-head with South Africa's Retief Goosen. But a double bogey on the par-3 17th killed his chances and Goosen lifted his second U.S. Open title.
Mickelson raised eyebrows when he missed the cut at the Scottish Open last week by a single stroke.
It was clear that Loch Lomond was not really where he wanted to be. His eyes were glancing 50 miles down the road to Troon and the opportunity to write himself another page in golf's record of champions.
Mickelson admits that this year he has geared his whole season around the majors.
"I have gone at it pretty hard this year, even in my off weeks I haven't taken much time off because I have been preparing for other events.
"This is the most I have prepared. I normally get in a prepare Monday Tuesday and Wednesday and now, when the week starts, I have a pretty good game plan of how I am going to play the course," he explained.
World No. 1 Tiger Woods goes into Troon as favorite but he is showing little of the form that saw him dominate golf with such conviction in 2000 and 2001 that there was little point in anyone else turning up.
But Woods refuses to concede that his game has gone off the boil.
"In my heart of hearts I feel it is nearly there," he says.
Maybe it is, but the fear of the Tiger has vanished -- an advantage that helped him to his domination in 2000 and 2001.
World No. 2 Ernie Els has almost won a major twice this year. Beaten by one shot by Mickelson in the Masters and then beat himself in the last round of the U.S. Open when, playing in the last group with Goosen, he crashed out with a mindnumbing 80.
So stunned was Els that he left the course without a word.
At last week's Scottish Open, his first tournament since the Shinnecock nightmare, Els described his U.S. Open final round as "an aberration".
"It was quite something, I'll tell you," said the man known as the 'Big Easy'.
But with two U.S. Open titles and an Open title to his name, Els showed at Loch Lomond that he has brushed aside Shinnecock and ready to win another major and finished tied for third.
Goosen is also another threatening to take the Claret Jug at Troon. He followed up his U.S. Open success by going to Ireland and winning the European Open.
He delayed chances of three 'Open' titles in a row by pulling out of the Scottish Open -- a move praised by Els.
"Two big wins and without the hottest player in the world right now and you want to be fresh going into a major. I think he's done the right thing," said Els.
Europe's best chance to end the 'foreign' domination of the Open lies with Ireland's Padraig Harrington.
The Dubliner is the only European in the world's top ten rankings and now believes enough in himself to take the final step and win a major.
His coach Bob Torrance has no doubts.
"Padraig is certainly capable of becoming one of the game's superstars. In fact he's only a whisker away from being one and as such has the potential to win a major," said the growly Scot.
Sentimental favorite will be Colin Montgomerie, playing on a course where he was brought up as a boy.
Ever since the Scot announced his marriage was in tatters and that his determination to be the best golfer in Europe almost broke him, the crowd have warmed to him as he tries to rediscover the form that made him such a force.
Montgomerie was at his pinnacle in 1997, the last time the Open was at Troon, but he failed to live up to the expectations.
"I know the place but I got off to a poor start. I shot a 76 the first day and it's difficult to claw your way back," he explained.
"For me this is my last opportunity to play Troon as a competitor. I'll be 50 when it comes back. It meant more to me to qualify than people realized.
"Not many qualifiers have the opportunity to do what I can do and I think I'll do very well," forecast Montgomerie.
Many of Europe's young, and not so young, guns all have the bank balances to compete against the world's best but their inability to impress in the majors is starting to send alarm bells ringing.
Darren Clarke has failed to make the cut this year in both the Masters and the U.S. Open and despite finishing second in Troon eight years ago, his erratic form leaves it all down to what game he brings.
"Can I win the Open? Sure I can. Do I think I will win the Open? I've no bloody idea, to be honest," admits the Ulsterman.
Ian Poulter and Paul Casey have yet to deliver at the highest level, so too has Sergio Garcia.
But all have a chance, thanks to the one thing that makes the Open unique -- Mother Nature.
It was Mother Nature that carved out the links that gives the Open it's flavour and it is Mother Nature that can stop a player in his tracks.
It is a 'luck' that Mickelson admits can make or break a player.
"There is an element of luck to do well," explained Mickelson.
"We saw that in '02 when Tiger was trying to win the Grand Slam at Muirfield and he had a very unlucky tee time on Saturday and had to deal with all that wind and rain and took his chances out."
Mother Nature could again decide the outcome of this year's Open. And Mickelson will be hoping his 'luck' continues.
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