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Mickelson optimistic ahead of Open defence

By Phil Casey

He has to start and end each day on a physio ball to cope with arthritis and has recorded just one top-10 finish in 2014, but Phil Mickelson still believes the best is yet to come.

That, of course, is typical of the eternal optimist in Mickelson, who plays golf with a near-permanent smile on his face and loves taking on outrageous shots.

But considering he won the Open Championship at the 20th attempt last year at the age of 43, just seven days after picking up his first title on British soil in the Scottish Open, it would be foolish to dismiss his claims out of hand.

"Obviously it hasn't been a good year," Mickelson admitted after returning the Claret Jug to R&A officials ahead of his Open defence at Hoylake.

"Normally I would be discouraged or frustrated, but I'm just not. I feel like I've had some good breakthroughs in some areas.

"I haven't had the results, I know I haven't played well. But the parts feel a lot better than the whole right now. I don't know when it will all click together. I don't know if it will be this week, in three weeks or a month or what, but it should be soon. I feel like it's really close to being good.

"And rather than trying to force it, I'm going to be patient. I'm driving the ball with more confidence and better than I ever have.

"I don't know if the stats show it or not, but I know that I am. This has not been a good putting year. I think that's why the results haven't been there.

"But I had a good breakthrough these last couple of weeks. We'll see. That's why we play the game, you just never know. If you look at me, how I feel, it's not the frustration that you would think, given the year I've had relative to the last past 20-plus years on Tour."

Mickelson's victory at Muirfield 12 months ago made him the third consecutive Open champion over the age of 40, following on from Darren Clarke at Sandwich in 2011 and Ernie Els in 2012.

He celebrated his 44th birthday the day after his first unsuccessful attempt to complete the career grand slam in the US Open at Pinehurst, but insists he is coping well with health issues.

"I actually feel better than I have in years and I've had to work a little bit harder," added the left-hander.

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