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Golf fun again for resurgent Phil Mickelson

Just a few tournaments into the 2004 PGA Tour season, there is no doubt that Phil Mickelson is back.

And it's not really the old Phil Mickelson, either. His body is a bit slimmer, and his game, for the most part, has been more controlled.

The 33-year-old has played in five tournaments this year and has one win, four other top-10 finishes and $1.7 million in earnings. Mickelson has been so on his game that his worst showing thus far was a tie for seventh in the FBR Open.

Mickelson's resurgent game was on display last week at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where he knocked off Lee Westwood, British Open champ Ben Curtis and Chris DiMarco with relative ease before succumbing to eventual runner-up Davis Love IIIin the quarterfinals.

Golf is fun again for the player who not so long ago was ranked No. 2 in the world.

The memory of his forgettable 2003 season, with no victories, seven top-10s and $1.6 million in money, is dimming quickly.

"I couldn't wait to get 2003 behind me," he said earlier this year.

Now everybody knows why.

Mickelson not only spent a lot of hours working with instructor Rick Smith and short-game guru Dave Pelz, he also worked on his fitness. He is reaping rewards from all three areas. The only equipment change he made from 2003 was a switch from the Pro V1x ball back to the Pro V1.

While that change has worked very well so far, Mickelson said last weekend he is considering returning to the V1x.

"I love the X ball," he said. "It goes forever. It soars through the air, but those little wedges, it wasn't what I wanted. So I just went to a little softer cover, and those wedges now seem to be a little bit sharper.

"Now, after saying that, I've been hitting the X ball out on the range, and they seem to be going the same as the Pro V1. So who knows, I might switch back to it next week, I couldn't tell you, but I wanted to go back to it when I was playing my best, which was '02, and try and get everything the same, which I did. Every club was basically the same as '02, and now that I'm starting to play well again I'll start going back to the X, because I've given up 16, 17 yards in driving distance statistically. I'll experiment a little bit more with it."

Mickelson is, however, working some different clubs to his bag depending on the course.

"There are a lot of courses on Tour that cap us off the tee at about 270," Mickelson said. "Now, my 3-wood goes a little bit longer than that, and my 2-iron goes way short of that; 240 is my 2-iron. So I've got a 35, 40-yard gap between those clubs.

"When I added that 1-iron, I felt I could get that 265-yard distance that I was trying to hit and get it in proper position, and I will use that club a lot this year because that's where the fairway cuts off."

For those watching Mickelson, the biggest change has been that he finding the fairway much more often than in 2003.

Last year he ranked 189th in driving accuracy, hitting 49 percent of his fairways. This year he's hitting almost 67 percent of the fairways and ranks 61st. His greens in regulation and putting stats are much are better, and his scoring average, 68.64, is No. 1 on Tour.

"I feel like I'm driving the ball much better and my irons have distance control much better," Mickelson said. "It feels good. My confidence is very high.

"What I feel is excitement to start playing better again, excitement to get back to the level of play, the level of consistency that I had in 2000, 2001 and 2002 where I was No. 2 player in the world."

Now Mickelson gets a chance to test his game at a place, Doral's Blue Monster, where he has never done very well. In five tournaments, his best showing was a tie for 20th in 1997. In his last appearance in the Ford Championship in 2000, he tied for 21st.

If he maintains control of his driver and his irons, though, Mickelson could well add a new title to his resume this week.

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