The appliance of science leaves Mickelson upbeat

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The Independent Online

Phil Mickelson does not need a rocket scientist to tell him that he has never prospered on links courses. In 11 previous Opens, his best results have been a tie for 11th place, four years ago at St Andrews, and a tie for 24th, here in 1997.

Phil Mickelson does not need a rocket scientist to tell him that he has never prospered on links courses. In 11 previous Opens, his best results have been a tie for 11th place, four years ago at St Andrews, and a tie for 24th, here in 1997.

Twice he has failed to make the cut, and on six other occasions, including at Royal St George's and Muirfield, where the wind blew in the last two years, he has ended in 40th place or lower. Nothing to write home about, then. Unless he likes his letters short.

Yet yesterday the 34-year-old Californian, who won his first major at the 47th attempt when he took the Masters in April, was decidedly upbeat about his chances this week.

Partly that was down to the confidence gained by shedding the tag of "best player never to have won a major". Partly, he said, it was down to his US Open runner-up spot at a blustery Shinnecock Hills last month. And partly, he conceded, it was down to a rocket scientist.

The expert in question, Dave Pelz, is a former Nasa scientist who now makes a living in golf as a short game specialist. "What I've tried to do this week, with the help of Dave, is to try to understand where the balls will tend to end up and try to be effective from there to the hole," explained Mickelson of his pre-Open preparations.

The problem in the Open in the past, he admitted, was that he had not prepared properly for the task ahead of him. The subtext is that while he relishes the target golf of Augusta, where the emphasis is length, and can hold his own in the US Open, where accuracy from the tee is paramount, the imponderables of links golf have stumped him. No more, it seems.

"This is a wonderful course," he said yesterday. "I have been working very hard to hit the shots or to learn how to play the shots effectively to suit the course ... It's something that I probably should have done in the past."

He added: "My record at the Open has never been the best or something that I've been that proud of. I did not play today. I practised and I don't want to play tomorrow. I have a pretty good game plan and a good idea of how I want to play Troon on Thursday. I don't want to overdo it. I just want to be fresh rather than be over-prepared."

Asked about his strategy here, he agreed that the first nine holes are there to be attacked, while the back nine will be spent defending any gains.

"I think that seems to be the most effective, way to play," he said. "The birdie holes are the first nine. They're not easy, because it's hard to stop the ball close downwind. But it is the best opportunity to go under par. The backside is a tough stretch."

Asked about his last Open here, in 1997, he recalled a first round so tough that he was struggling to reach several of the par-fours. "It was so challenging," he said. "I would love to see it play that challenging again. As tough as it was, I'd love to see that again because it was a lot of fun to try to make pars on such a tough test."

For the logic in that, consult a rocket scientist.

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