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Phil Mickelson sticking with game plan

Meticulous preparation has been the key to Phil Mickelson's strong showing at the 2004 majors, and this week's U.S. PGA Championship is no different.

The American left-hander, who made his long-awaited major breakthrough at the U.S. Masters in April, skipped last week's PGA Tour event so he could make a thorough initial assessment of the 7,597-yard Straits Course.

"I just enjoy being able to have the time to do it without anybody around, not holding up players behind me and so forth," Mickelson, 34, told a news conference on Tuesday.

"It took me eight and a half to nine hours for the one round where I do my thorough look at how the course will play and how I want to attack certain holes.

"I was not able to come here to Whistling Straits prior to last week, which was a factor in my decision not to play (at the International)."

Mickelson ended a 14-year wait for a first major victory at Augusta National. He then came desperately close to winning the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in June and last month's British Open at Royal Troon.

At Shinnecock, he led by a shot with two holes to play before double-bogeying the 17th and finishing second to South African Retief Goosen.

At Troon, he held the outright lead by one with seven holes to play but lost momentum after dropping a shot on 13. Despite a birdie at the par-five 16th, he had to settle for third place with a closing 68.

"I'm three shots away from having the grand slam, certainly I think about that," Mickelson said. "But I don't dwell on it. What I try to do is think about what I can do to make up those three shots.

"I would also like to maybe make up a couple of those shots, even at Augusta, so I don't have to make one on the 18th on the last hole for the win."

The American had to hole an 18-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to hold off a last-day Masters charge by Ernie Els.

"I'm constantly thinking about how to salvage a half a shot here or there or even a quarter of a shot," Mickelson added.

"If I can improve my 72-hole total by three or four shots, it would be a world of difference. That's less than a shot a round."

All things considered, though, the American world number four has enjoyed 2004.

"My year has been fun because I've been playing well and I had a win at the Masters and have had very consistent play," he said.

"I think from a viewer's point of view, it's been an exciting year of golf because we've had four guys play very well and then we've had some incredible performances from other players.

"Todd Hamilton's performance at the British Open is something special and makes the year very exciting," added Mickelson, whose best U.S. PGA Championship finish was second behind David Toms at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001.

"But to have Vijay (Singh) and Ernie and myself and Retief and Tiger (Woods), guys that you expect to play well play well, that makes for a fun year."

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