Mickelson wants quick end to victory drought

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The Independent Online

Phil Mickelson became a dad this year, won more than $1.7 million and finished second at the US Open.

Phil Mickelson became a dad this year, won more than $1.7 million and finished second at the US Open.

But Mickelson not only remained the best American without a victory in a major, he didn't win, period.

"It was an exciting season for me because of the birth of my child and because I had a chance in the US Open," Mickelson said. "But it was a disappointing year in the sense that I went win."

Mickelson didn't win a PGA tournament for the first time since 1992, his first year on the tour. So he's hoping this week's Williams World Challenge will help him get his game back to the form that produced 13 tour wins.

The $3.5 million challenge is a PGA-sanctioned event, though not part of the tour's schedule. Twelve players, including PGA Player of the Year Tiger Woods, are competing in the 72-hole tournament where the winner earns $1 million.

Mickelson's reasoning that he may be in for a good week goes beyond a gut feeling.

The tournament, which started today, is being played on Mickelson's home course, the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"I expect to play well," he said. "I'm playing on a course I'm very familiar with. I know how it plays. I know how the greens react. Where to miss it and where to hit it. Now it's just execution."

Mickelson lost the US Open by one shot to Payne Stewart, who one-putted the final three greens.

A day after the Open, Mickelson's wife Amy gave birth to the couple's first child, daughter Amanda Brynn.

Mickelson also tied for sixth at the Masters and tied for fifth at the Bay Hill Invitational. His failure to win, he said, wasn't from lack of focus or practice.

"I spent a lot of time working on my game last year, and the individual areas of my game improved dramatically," he said. "I drove the ball much more accurately than I had. My sand game has improved. Putting improved. And yet I didn't win."

Because the Williams Challenge is not part of the PGA Tour, Woods will have to wait until the Mercedes Championships next week in Hawaii - the tour's 2000 opener - to try to extend his streak of four straight tournament wins.

Still, it will be Woods that most of the gallery will be following, and in all likelihood the other 11 players will be chasing.

Given his pre-tournament demeanor, it's obvious Woods hasn't lost any of the confidence that helped him win eight PGA events and earn $7.6 million worldwide.

"When you're playing against some of the best players in the world, it does get your juices flowing," Woods said. "Holiday season or not, we're going to try to beat each other's brains out."

Woods, who turns 24 on Thursday, and Sergio Garcia, the Spaniard who will be 20 on January 9, were paired together in the opening round.

The two staged a stirring duel in the final round of the PGA Championship at Medinah in August and have become good friends on and off the course.

Garcia earned nearly $785,000 while playing in just nine tournaments his rookie season. Besides the runner-up finish to Woods at the PGA Championship, Garcia tied for third at the Byron Nelson Classic and tied for seventh at both the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational and American Express World Championships.

"It's been a good year," Garcia said. "Not as good as his (Woods). But for being my first year, it's been very good. I'm just hoping to keep improving and steal some tournaments from Tiger next year."