British Open habitually frustrating for Mickelson

When Phil Mickelson tees off Thursday at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England, he will be hoping to improve on his woeful record of just one Top 10 finish in this, his 18th British Open.

When Phil Mickelson tees off Thursday, it will be his 18th appearance in the British Open. But the American has had only one Top 10 finish in the sport's oldest major.

"I'm entering this year, kind of, like a fresh start," he said. "I'm not going to worry about past performances.

"I'm going to try to learn and enjoy the challenge of playing links golf. I'm having fun doing that.

"I'm trying to pretend like it's my first time here."

Over the years, Mickelson has talked of the need to be more aggressive. Or more patient. Or more reckless. Or more thoughtful.

Now he just wants to forget.

While Mickelson is one of the most imaginative players around the green, his longer clubs have never been much of a fit for links golf. He prefers a game built on towering shots hit with precision, the sort of style that works so well on the PGA Tour.

The British Open, on the other hand, is often won by the player who can hit low, ugly shots that take the wind out of play but work just fine skipping along the bumpy ground.

The sort of wind that was howling Tuesday at Royal St. George's, leaving Mickelson unable to reach the green on the par-3 11th, even with his driver.

He admitted to playing "terrible" during his practice round, but kept telling himself how much fun he was having on a cool, cloudy day, the wind gusting at more than 48 km/h.

"I think it's a fun challenge," Mickelson said, trying to sound convincing, "whether I play well or not."

Mickelson has won the Masters three times, the PGA Championship once and been a runner-up so many times in the U.S. Open that we've lost count. But the British Open, for the most part, has been a complete mystery.

"I know that the last few years my putting on the greens has been a big issue," he said. "But I think that also there were other factors, too — shot selection around the greens, shot selection into the greens."

He's been studying the contour of the greens, trying to figure out which holes work better when he keeps the ball low, which ones are more suited for a high shot that will stick near the flag.

"Learning some of those nuances of the course is the first thing I'm trying to do a little bit more effectively now," Mickelson said. "So that I can make better decisions while I'm out playing."

Mickelson has struggled with his putter at the British Open, admitting that he finds it difficult to read the lines and judge the speed of the fescue-style greens.

"I'm trying to go in here as though it's my first time," Mickelson said. "I'm trying to pretend I've never played here before and I'm just trying to learn it all from the start, from scratch."