Lefty has learned from his shaky '06

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Maybe he was being a little reckless, taking too many risks, or simply found trouble at the wrong time. Whatever the case, it was a crash Phil Mickelson won't forget, and he confessed Tuesday that it left a scar.

Phil Mickelson denies his collapse in the final round of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club last year has had long-term effects on his game.  AP / File
AP / File
Phil Mickelson denies his collapse in the final round of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club last year has had long-term effects on his game.

He was talking, of course, about a skiing accident that kept him off the PGA Tour for three months.

"A scar happened in '94 when I broke my leg and they cut it open and stuck in a rod," Mickelson said. "That's a scar."

His double bogey on the 72nd hole at the U.S. Open?

That was a lesson.

"Losing the Open obviously hurt," Mickelson said. "But losing the PGA in 2001 hurt. Losing the Masters a number of years hurt. And losing the U.S. Open in 2004 making double (bogey) on 17 hurt. That's part of the game. And so I think it's a challenge to try to get past that, but it's also an opportunity to identify a weakness and improve it.

"And hopefully," he added, "improve my performances from here on out."

Mickelson makes his 2007 debut today at the Bob Hope Classic, and he probably won't have to wait long to see what he learned. Fourteen of his 29 victories on the PGA Tour have come on the West Coast, and he has won the Hope twice since 2002.

It will be his first time inside the ropes since the Ryder Cup, though some might argue he didn't play there, either. Mickelson looked dazed at The K Club and went 0-4-1 for an American team that got waxed. He really hasn't shown up anywhere since that infamous meltdown on a late Sunday afternoon at Winged Foot.

Mickelson had a two-shot lead with four holes to play in the final round of the U.S. Open, an amazing feat considering he couldn't find the fairway. It caught up to him on the 18th when he hit driver so far to the left that it clattered off trees and a corporate tent, sending him to a double bogey that left him one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy.

He played five more tournaments the rest of the year, his best finish a tie for 16th at the PGA Championship.

And the speculation began.

What's wrong with Phil? How will he ever recover from such an ignominious failure? All of which was misguided thinking.

Don't use the tail end of 2006 as evidence of emotional scar tissue, because Lefty rarely plays his best golf after the U.S. Open. Since his first full season on tour in 1993, only one-third of his top 10s and eight of his 29 victories occurred after the second major (that includes Pebble Beach in 1998, which ended in August).

"I'm sure Phil's going to bounce back," said Annika Sorenstam. "We all know he's super talented, and that (U.S. Open) hasn't crossed my mind. He's a guy who can come back and win majors."

But even Mickelson knows better than to simply expect that to happen.

He referred to the 2001 PGA Championship at Atlanta, when he was tied for the lead with David Toms until a three-putt from 50 feet on the 16th hole cost him a shot that he never got back.

"I looked back at that event and realized my lag putting needs to improve, because I'm not going to win majors if my lag putting isn't better," Mickelson said.

The lesson from Winged Foot was to drive the ball in the short grass _ more specifically, to eliminate the tee shot that goes left. The other lesson for Mickelson - and this is nothing new -was to look like he spends more time in the gym than at In-N-Out Burger.

One reason Lefty, who says he has lost 20 to 25 pounds during the long off-season, has done so well the first five months of the season is because he runs out of gas in the summer, and it didn't help carrying excess baggage.


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