Mickelson eyes Open breakthough after previous close calls

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

BETHESDA, Maryland (Reuters) - Early on in his career, Phil 'The Thrill' Mickelson was widely regarded as too daring with his dazzling shot-making to flourish at U.S. Opens where a patient approach and pars are always at a premium.

While yet to win his national open after 20 attempts, Mickelson has finished second five times and he believes the 1995 edition at Shinnecock Hills helped him first understand the recipe for success in the toughest major to win.

"I learned a lot from the loss at Shinnecock," the American left-hander told reporters at Congressional Country Club on Tuesday. "Corey Pavin won, and a lot of people don't even know I really was in it.

"I ended up finishing fourth, and I played the 16th hole in six over par. It ended up costing me the tournament. I learned a lot about how to play a U.S. Open that week.

"A lot of times par-fives, which I normally think of as birdie holes, are the toughest pars at U.S. Opens. (Shinnecock) changed my thought process about being overly aggressive in the par fives."

"So it took me six, seven, eight years to really get into contention and have a great opportunity to win," world number five Mickelson said with a smile.

"Since then, I've kind of figured out how to manage myself around, control my misses and salvage pars the hard way.

"I'm not going to play perfect golf, I'm not going to hit every fairway but there are times I can manage it ... and that's allowed me to be in contention a number of times."

PUTTING FRAILTY

A four-times major champion who lifted his third green jacket at last year's Masters, Mickelson feels that putting is the one attribute of his game that has held him back this season.

"I'm playing some good golf; ball-striking wise I think it's the best it's ever been in the last three or four or five months," said the 40-year-old Californian who is renowned for his magical short game.

"And I feel I'm right on the cusp of getting my confidence back with the putter because I'm rolling the ball better than I have but I'm not making them (putts).

"There's a small difference there getting the right speed for the line, but I'm close."

Mickelson, who has been grouped with fellow American Dustin Johnson and Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy for the first two rounds at Congressional, said he would try to focus on the process rather than the result this week.

"When I was trying to win my first major championship, if you focus so much on the result, so much on winning, sometimes you can get in your own way," he added.

"I'm trying to think about the process of playing the type of golf I want to play around this course. Having been in contention so many times through the years, I really believe that I can win this tournament."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)