Lytham, England: Phil Mickelson's mastery of playing links golf has been a very slow work in progress, but he finally believes that he may have found the secret.
Key to that was his performance in last year's British Open when, in the wind and rain that swept Royal St George's in Kent, he finished in a tie for second place behind Darren Clarke.
That was his best finish in 18 Open starts since making his debut at Royal Birkdale in 1991, and it has given him the belief that he can go one better this week at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
"I think what was so fun for me about last year was that I was able to make a move in horrible weather, and that's one of the things that has excited me because historically I've not played well in bad weather," said Mickelson, who hails from sunny San Diego in southern California.
"And now I look at it a little bit differently. And I almost welcome it, in a sense.
"I certainly have more confidence in competing and playing in weather and the different challenges that links golf presents after having had some success after last year."
Still, the portents have not been great for the 42-year left-hander of late as he has struggled with his game and more worryingly with his focus.
After winning the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February, Mickelson had three other top-five finishes in his next five tournaments, ending in a tie for third at The Masters in early April.
His game promptly deserted him after that and in the three tournaments leading into last week's Scottish Open, he withdrew ater an opening 79 at the Memorial, shot a final round of 78 to finish well down the field in the US Open and missed the cut in the Greenbrier Classic.
"My game didn't feel that far off, but I just wasn't holding my focus for all 18 holes," he said of his form slump.
"I just wasn't in a good, competitive frame of mind. And adding that tournament (Scottish Open) has really helped get me get in a much better frame now.
"Certainly to take on a challenge like the British Open right here at Royal Lytham is a whole different test. But at least I feel a little bit better about where I'm headed."
Mickelson, in fact, met with mixed fortunes at Castle Stuart, which hosted the Scottish Open, starting with a 73 and closing with a 74, but with excellent rounds of 64 and 65 sandwiched between.
The four-time major winner has not enjoyed much success at the compact and bunker-strewn Lytham St Annes course in the past, equaling for 40th in 1996 and sharing 30th the last time the Open was played on the Fylde coast in 2001.
But he is full of admiration for a layout which he says demands a mastery of strategy and strict control of ball flight.
"There's a lot of them, but they're very well placed," he said of the 206 pot bunkers that are the trademark of the course.
"And it does still give you an opportunity to strategically avoid them off the tee and have decisions as to which line you want to take and which bunkers you want to try to bring into play and take out of play.
"And although there's a lot of them, they seem to be very well thought out and are strategically placed for the varying winds that you may see here."
Mickelson will head out Thursday in the company of world number one Luke Donald of England and 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia.