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Sunday 4 December 2016

Mickelson is hoping to improve 'terrible' form

Phil Mickelson of the U.S. hits off the tenth tee during his practice round ahead of the 2015 Masters at the Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta
Phil Mickelson of the U.S. hits off the tenth tee during his practice round ahead of the 2015 Masters at the Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta

Phil Mickelson acknowledges that his game has been "terrible" the past 18 months, but a recent improvement and a return to his favourite tournament have filled him with hope heading into the Masters starting on Thursday.

Mickelson says he is driving the ball better than in decades, if not his entire career, and his moribund short game showed signs of life the past two weeks as he prepared for the first major of the year.

"I really thought I would start the year out on fire and it couldn't have been further from that," a seemingly relaxed Mickelson told reporters at Augusta National.

"But I'm excited with where I see my game is going. You have got to take baby steps (and) the first step for me was getting my aggressive style back, getting my focus back to make birdies, and that mental intensity that's needed."

The 2004, 2006 and 2010 champion says arriving at Augusta National is rejuvenating.

"It gives me a new energy," the 44-year-old added. "And I think that energy helps me work hard, play hard and focus better and play my best. There's not a course that I feel more comfortable on.

"This is the one we (the players) want to win the most, the tournament I think is the most meaningful.

"It's what you think about in the off-season, when you're in the gym at 530 in the morning (and) you don't want to be there. This is what gives us the motivation."

Three of Mickelson's five major victories have been at Augusta, along with the 2005 PGA Championship and the 2013 British Open.

His aggressive style seems ideally suited to a course that often rewards risk-takers but can also punish.

He says it took him several years to temper his aggression at the par-five 15th, for example, where a pond guarding the green has swallowed up many a player's hopes of victory.

"I've made numerous mistakes on that hole," he said, referring to his three career double-bogeys there.

"That's the one that comes up and can bite you if you get a little bit too aggressive.

"I finally accepted the fact that par is okay. Had I approached it a little differently earlier in my career, that could have helped me win other Masters."

Meanwhile, Australian Marc Leishman has withdrawn from the Masters for personal reasons. Leishman, 31, decided to pull out of the season's first major with his wife in an induced coma battling pneumonia.

The withdrawal of Leishman, who tied for fourth at Augusta National in 2013 the same year compatriot Adam Scott landed the green jacket, reduces the Masters field to 97 players.

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