August 2, 2005

Mickelson looks to sharpen game at the International

TORONTO (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson will look to sharpen his
competitive edge ahead of the year's final major when he
returns to action for the first time since the British Open
this week at the International, in Castle Rock, Colorado.

The 2004 Masters champion has undergone a form slump since
May, with a tie for seventh at the Wachovia championship his
only top-10 finish in his last six starts.

He has also had uninspiring 33rd and 60th place finishes at
the U.S. and British Opens and must quickly rediscover his form
at the Castle Rock Golf Club if he hopes to challenge Tiger
Woods and Vijay Singh at the PGA championship next week.

The world's top two players underlined their readiness to
contend in Baltusrol at the Buick Open last week where Singh
beat Woods in a high-energy clash before they headed off to put
the finishing touches on their preparations in private.

Mickelson has not played competitively since returning from
St Andrews and has only teamed up with Retief Goosen to play
Woods and John Daly in a made for television event in
California, though he was spotted Sunday at the Baltusrol Golf
Club in New Jersey, the site for the PGA championship.

"I think the shot values here are as good as any golf
course we play," Mickelson told the New York Times. "It's very
demanding -- off the tee, to the greens and on the greens.

"It stands on its own."


Before turning his full attention to Baltusrol, Mickelson
will try to bring his game into sharper focus at the
International, which will provide some interesting challenges
-- none of which will be encountered at the PGA championship.

The tournament will be played at altitude under modified
Stableford rules, which is a far from ideal tuneup for the
year's final major that will be staged near sea-level.

The format, however, is one at which Mickelson excels,
having won the event twice and finished runner-up on two
occasions, providing the world number four with an opportunity
to gain a badly needed jolt of confidence heading to Baltusrol.

"It's a wonderful place," Mickelson told the Denver Post.
"I've always liked the challenge of adjusting to the altitude.

"Some players hate that, I enjoy it."

The only regular PGA Tour event that departs from stroke
play, the tournament awards five points for eagles and two
points for birdies while subtracting a single stroke for a

The high altitude also makes most of the par-fives on the
7,619-yard Jack Nicklaus designed layout reachable, with the
par-five 17th often holding the key to victory.

"Birdies and eagles are huge for this format but I don't
know if it changes you being aggressive," said champion Rod

"I don't think it changes my game plan, I play
aggressive(ly) anyway. The format rewards birdies and eagles
and I think that is fantastic.

"Just have a look at Steve Lowery a few years ago, he came
from nowhere, which you can do and you can't normally do in a
stroke play event.

"And (at) 17, something always happens there. It's a
pivotal hole for everyone."