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Tiger purring as Mickelson driven to distraction

Phil Mickelson feels the thinner rough in place at Carnoustie will give him a better chance of mounting a challenge this year.
AFP | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON JUL 16, 2007 11:30 AM IST

Phil Mickelson insists it is better for him to spend the week before major tournaments honing his game in a competitive environment.

But the American left-hander might be reconsidering that belief in the wake of a Scottish Open experience that will have done little for his confidence as he crosses from the west to the east of Scotland for this week's British Open at Carnoustie.

Although the world number three played some excellent golf at Loch Lomond, he will be haunted by the knowledge that a first tour-level victory on European soil was his for the taking and he blew it with a string of wayward drives when the pressure was on.

The history books will record that unheralded Frenchman Gregory Havret produced a nerveless 68 to take Mickelson (69) into a play-off which he won with a par.

But the American will be painfully aware that Havret only got his chance because of the trouble that Mickelson had in finding the fairway off the tee.

Poor drives resulted in dropped shots at the 14th, 16th and 18th holes and it was another one that cost him the tournament when they played the 18th for a second time.

"Greg played very solid golf and I played very erratic golf," Mickelson admitted. "I really struggled off the tee and the back nine was a fight for me."

Mickelson, who has only once got himself into contention at the Open, finishing third at Troon in 2004, had spoken earlier in the tournament of how he felt the thinner rough in place at Carnoustie would give him a better chance of mounting a challenge this year because his scrambling skills around the green will be of more use.

And he insisted that his confidence remained high, despite the frustration he suffered on Sunday afternoon.

"I'm enjoying playing in Scotland and after the few days I had in Carnoustie last week and seeing that it is set up wonderfully, I am really looking forward to playing there."

The contrast with Tiger Woods's build-up to the Open could hardly have been more marked.

The world number one never plays the week before and after his now-traditional Sunday warm-up round, he gave Mickelson and co. cause for concern by declaring his liking for the way the Carnoustie course has been set up.

Woods, who will be bidding for his third successive triumph in the world's oldest major, was undone by a combination of the wind and the 'Carnasty' rough when the Open was last played at the east coast venue in 1999, finishing seventh in a tournament won by Paul Lawrie.

This time around, Woods believes the R and A have delivered an outstanding test of golf.

"It's really nice, really fair," Woods said. "Has it changed from the last time I was here? -- you might say that!"

Former Open winner Sandy Lyle has meanwhile backed Woods to celebrate the recent birth of his daughter Sam by winning his 13th major here.

"For someone who has not grown up on links courses, Tiger's ability to play on them has never failed to amaze me," said Lyle.

"His course management is so good. He generally comes over earlier and plays the Irish courses like Tom Watson used to do and he adapts very quickly to links and his record proves that.

"When you get someone like a Tiger or a Tom Watson, when he was playing well, they just seem to perform so well when they play in the Open Championship, even though they play on a different course every year."

Lyle added to Woods's praise for the course.

"The course is very good, playing very fair and everything that was said about the course eight years ago has been taken to heart and it has been sorted out. It is long in places and there is a run on the fairways but the greens are very good."

"It will be a test but it is an open competition and the course could suit a number of players. It brings a lot more players in to the game rather than it being so tight that you are down to a handful of potential winners."

"The wind will be a factor but there will be a lot of big-hitters out here who hit the ball a million miles with no nerves so we will see. But in general, course conditions are as good as you can get."

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