Upbeat Phil Mickelson determined to rise from ashes in Phoenix
Tiger Woods isn't the only golfing megastar striving to regain former glories ... his US Ryder Cup compadre Phil Mickelson also seems to be engaged in a grim fight against the dying of the light in his golf career.
Mickelson's problems have not been as cataclysmic as Tiger's, but the 42-year-old Californian has faced severe off-course challenges in recent years, ranging from his own brush with arthritic psoriasis to helping wife Amy and mother Mary overcome breast cancer.
On the course, Mickelson became so frustrated with his putting last autumn, he resorted to the belly putter, while his stamina was questioned as he faded in several tournaments when well placed to win.
Perhaps the most disappointing moment of 2011 came on the Sunday at the British Open. After playing the first 10 holes of his final round at Sandwich in six-under to draw level with leader Darren Clarke, Mickelson missed a 30-inch putt for par at 11 to bring his charge to a sudden halt.
April's Houston Open is his only win since turning 40 and, as he tumbled out of the world top 10 last season for the first time since 2004, Mickelson's average fourth-round score of 70.47 was the highest of his career.
Poor form has followed him into 2012. Following a lacklustre share of 49th at the Humana, a "shocking" first-round of 77 at the Farmers Open in Torrey Pines inevitably led to a fourth missed cut in 43 starts. Mickelson remains upbeat, insisting work he put in on the putting green at his family home in Rancho Santa Fe has yielded rich results (incidentally, that 4.88 acre property was recently put up for sale at $7.05m).
Worryingly, Mickelson utters a refrain heard so often from Padraig Harrington in recent years. "I don't feel bad about my game. I just have to take it from the practice tee to the course and that's easier said than done sometimes."
Much will be learned this week when Mickelson returns to the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, the scene in 1996 and in 2005 (when he shot a course record 60), of two of his 39 Tour victories.
As he plays in a show group featuring Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, the adrenaline should flow today, but if he doesn't make an impact in Phoenix, alarm bells will ring.
The highlight of today's first round of the Qatar Masters will be Hunter Mahan's showdown with his 2010 Ryder Cup conqueror Graeme McDowell at Doha GC.
Mahan was reduced to tears by his 17th-hole defeat against McDowell at Celtic Manor but insisted: "I've known Graeme since college and we got it out of the way real quick. I don't really have any ill feelings towards the guy."
After his barnstorming finish in Abu Dhabi earned him a tie for third with Tiger on his seasonal debut, McDowell's relishing this week's challenge -- especially if the wind is as strong as forecast.
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