Firestone victory, not top spot, the focus for Mickelson

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson's thoughts remained focused on trying to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after his bid to replace Tiger Woods as world number one stalled in Saturday's third round.

The American left-hander, who would take the top ranking with a top-four finish at Firestone Country Club should Woods place outside the top 44, shares 10th spot going into the final round.

"I'm trying to win the tournament," Mickelson told reporters after slipping from joint second overnight with a one-over 71 in ideal scoring conditions.

"I'm only four (shots) back, and I fought hard today not really having much (game) just to stay within striking distance. I found it difficult."

The four-times major winner struggled off the tee, missing 10 of 14 fairways, and bogeyed two of the last five holes on the way to a five-under total of 205.

"I think the later groups all found it tough today with all the (earlier) guys shooting six, seven, eight-under par in front of us for us to try to keep pace," Mickelson said.

"We felt like we had to force the issue. If I can make some birdies tomorrow, hopefully I can give those leaders the same feeling."

Perhaps unfortunate to play in the same era as Woods, Mickelson has never reached the top of the world rankings and has occupied second spot for a record total of 257 weeks.


He has long expressed his desire to breach golf's summit but has always focused more on the process of how to get there.

"You just keep playing," the 40-year-old American said. "How I got here in the first place was by winning golf tournaments, and how I will sustain it is by winning golf tournaments.

"Winning golf tournaments takes care of a lot of things and being number one is one of them."

Woods, a 14-times major champion, has been golf's leading man for the last 269 weeks and for an overall total of 611 weeks in his illustrious career.

However, he has not won a tournament since being embroiled in scandal about his extra-marital affairs in the wake of his Australian Masters victory in November. At Firestone this week, he has been a shadow of his former dominant self and lies third-last going into the final round.

"I'm going into tomorrow thinking I've got to be on the attack, that I've got to be firing at pins and make birdies to try and catch the lead," the 38-times PGA Tour winner said.

"I like that feeling. I think I can put some pressure on the leaders."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)