Hate to be Rude: Lefty takes aim at Open title

Phil Mickelson and caddie Jim Mackay during a practice round at St. Andrews.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Phil Mickelson has one top-10 finish in 16 British Open starts – a third place at Troon in 2004. Yet one can form the impression that the world No. 2 could fare well this week at the Old Course at St. Andrews. He’s in major form, having won the Masters and tied for fourth at the U.S. Open.

He adores the Old Course, calling it a “spiritual” place and adding that he’d like it to be a permanent Open site.

“I just love playing it,” he said. “You can’t help but feel emotion and feel this sense of spirituality come over you as you play.”

He feels comfortable on the tee here, where he says one can be aggressive and hit driver on just about every hole because of the wide fairways. “There’s no question this one best suits my game because there’s so much more room off the tee than other Open venues,” he said. “I don’t feel restrained on the tee at all.”

He has perhaps the most creative short game, an ally at a place that presents 150-foot lag putts and many options on approaches and short shots.

Mickelson’s problem over the years at the Open Championship has been related to high trajectory, high spin rate and poor putting on slower greens. Even his low shots have had “way too much spin,” he said.

It wasn’t until 2004 that he started to play the wind effectively. He had something of an “epiphany of how to do that by taking more club and swinging easier.”

You could sense his enthusiasm for this week as he spoke.

“I expect to play well here; I really do,” Mickelson said. “I expect to be in contention.”

Quote of the day: Someone said to Mickelson, “Ian Poulter has basically said it’s over at the moment for Americans winning majors, and he also had a question whether you have the drive to continue to win majors into your 40s. I just wonder how you respond to those.”

The left-hander paused and said, “Yeah, April went well.”

Quote of the day, II: When asked if he goes out in St. Andrews to have a pint of beer with the locals, Mickelson said, “I have nothing against having a pint; I just don’t care for the taste. I haven’t had a beer since college. It’s not my thing. But I like to go out and hear the stories. The problem is, as people have more and more pints, I can’t understand them. So I find that 7 to 8:30 (p.m.) is like my optimum time. ... They actually understand it when I try to use my different (Scottish) accent, but I have not learned to understand it in return. I’m trying, though.”

Tiger Woods has won the last 13 of his 14 major championship titles using the same Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter.

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Tiger Woods switched putters for the first time since 1999.

That would include two Open Championships at the Old Course at St. Andrews. A creature of habit, Woods doesn’t change equipment quickly or often.

That said, he has switched putters this week for the first time since 1999. Woods has benched the Newport 2 in favor of a Nike model that he says works better on the slower-than-usual greens here. Woods said the ball comes off the Nike blade faster, enabling him to make less of a putting stroke adjustment on greens he deemed slower than 10 on the Stimpmeter.

Woods said he “always” has struggled on slow greens. Well, he has putted worse than usual this year and hasn’t putted well in a major in a couple of years. According to a PGA Tour count, Woods missed 15 putts inside of 10 feet at the AT&T National, his last start.

He has won twice here, largely because of excellent lag putting, a must on the huge greens. Whether his putting is good enough – or if he’s feeling enough inner peace – to win this week remains to be seen.

• Woods was asked several questions related to his personal life Tuesday in his pre-Open news conference and was polite but predictably slippery, allowing little in the way of revelation or common human touch.

Asked about speculation that his divorce is final in the aftermath of his sex scandal, he said, “I’m not going into that.” Asked about not interacting all that much with fans in a morning practice round, he said, “I was fine this morning. I don’t know what you are talking about.” Asked more than once about his public image, he said, “I’m trying to be a better person.”

• It’s been a while since a major championship has felt as wide open as this one. Picking a winner at St. Andrews is a difficult task.

Just a hunch, but I keep getting the feeling it could be Ernie Els’ week.

• Arnold Palmer walked into the Dunvegan Hotel for lunch Tuesday and asked to sit in the seat honoring his longtime British Open caddie, the late Tip Anderson.

“Where’s Tip’s seat?” Palmer asked.

Well, it’s right by the door in the lounge, marked by an engraved metal plate. Anderson, who died at 71 in 2004, could be found in that seat many a night over the years.

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Fred Couples acknowledges the crowd at Augusta.

• Oddly enough, the Senior British Open next week at Carnoustie will go on without the world’s best over-50 player, Fred Couples.

Couples, a Champions Tour rookie who won three of his first four starts this year, told a media official that he’ll play the Canadian Open on the regular Tour next week instead.

We’ll give him this: If nothing else, a flight to Canada will be easier on his back than one to Scotland.

• Quick report from pre-Open field studies in Scotland:

North Berwick: Still my second favorite course in Scotland.

Royal Dornoch: Still my favorite course in Scotland, the only one that prompts goose bumps.

Castle Stuart: The new links near Inverness is a collection of 18 excellent holes, a scenic gem along the Moray Firth in Inverness. Mark Parsinen has hit another home run. He created Kingsbarns near St. Andrews with Kyle Phillips and this one with Gil Hanse. Asking which one is better is like asking which of Charlie’s Angels you prefer.

Skibo Castle Carnegie Club: Remarkable transformation from an average resort-type course into a terrific, memorable links – thanks to the visionary work of Director of Golf David Thomson and superintendent Gary Gruber.

Carnoustie: Still the hardest course in the world.

• The field in this week’s Reno-Tahoe Open, a PGA Tour event opposite the British Open, includes Nolan Henke, David Ogrin, Guy Boros and Steve Pate.

Hey, don’t laugh. Baseball has old-timers’ games and Turn Back the Clock days.

David Cook’s outstanding book, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia,” is being made into a movie. Filming is set to begin July 29 in Utopia, Texas, and Robert Duvall will play the lead character of Johnny – the wise and soulful sage who teaches about life and golf.

Understandably, Cook is excited about the movie project and the fact that last week at the John Deere Classic K.J. Choi used the face-on putting style prescribed in the book.


Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.

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