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Phil Mickelson getting ready for PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson will look to sharpen his competitive edge ahead of the year's final major when he returns to action for the first time since the British Open this week at the International, in Castle Rock, Colorado.

The 2004 Masters champion has undergone a form slump since May, with a tie for seventh at the Wachovia championship his only top-10 finish in his last six starts.

He has also had uninspiring 33rd and 60th place finishes at the U.S. and British Opens and must quickly rediscover his form at the Castle Rock Golf Club if he hopes to challenge Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh at the PGA championship next week.

The world's top two players underlined their readiness to contend in Baltusrol at the Buick Open last week where Singh beat Woods in a high-energy clash before they headed off to put the finishing touches on their preparations in private.

Mickelson has not played competitively since returning from St Andrews and has only teamed up with Retief Goosen to play Woods and John Daly in a made for television event in California, though he was spotted on Sunday at the Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, the site for the PGA championship.

"I think the shot values here are as good as any golf course we play," Mickelson told the New York Times. "It's very demanding -- off the tee, to the greens and on the greens.

"It stands on its own."

Before turning his full attention to Baltusrol, Mickelson will try to bring his game into sharper focus at the International, which will provide some interesting challenges -- none of which will be encountered at the PGA championship.

The tournament will be played at altitude under modified Stableford rules, which is a far from ideal tuneup for the year's final major that will be staged near sea-level.

The format, however, is one at which Mickelson excels, having won the event twice and finished runner-up on two occasions, providing the world number four with an opportunity to gain a badly needed jolt of confidence heading to Baltusrol.

"It's a wonderful place," Mickelson told the Denver Post. "I've always liked the challenge of adjusting to the altitude.

"Some players hate that, I enjoy it."

The only regular PGA Tour event that departs from stroke play, the tournament awards five points for eagles and two points for birdies while subtracting a single stroke for a bogey.

The high altitude also makes most of the par-fives on the 7,619-yard Jack Nicklaus designed layout reachable, with the par-five 17th often holding the key to victory.

"Birdies and eagles are huge for this format but I don't know if it changes you being aggressive," said champion Rod Pampling.

"I don't think it changes my game plan, I play aggressive(ly) anyway. The format rewards birdies and eagles and I think that is fantastic.

"Just have a look at Steve Lowery a few years ago, he came from nowhere, which you can do and you can't normally do in a stroke play event.

"And (at) 17, something always happens there. It's a pivotal hole for everyone."

 

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