Mickelson will try to be patient during Open title defence and place trust in improved driving

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Phil Mickelson has to start and end each day on a physio ball to cope with arthritis and has recorded just one top-10 finish in 2014, but he still believes the best is yet to come.

This, of course, is typical of the eternal optimist in Mickelson, who plays golf with a near-permanent smile on his face and loves taking on outrageous shots in any situation.

But considering he won the Open Championship at the 20th attempt last year at the age of 43, just seven days after picking up his first title on British soil in the Scottish Open, it would be foolish to dismiss his claims out of hand.

“Obviously it hasn’t been a good year,” Mickelson admitted after returning the Claret Jug to R&A officials ahead of his Open defence at Hoylake.

“Normally I would be discouraged or frustrated, but I’m just not. I feel like I’ve had some good breakthroughs in some areas.

“I haven’t had the results, I know I haven’t played well. But the parts feel a lot better than the whole right now. I don’t know when it will all click together. I don’t know if it will be this week, in three weeks or a month or what, but it should be soon. I feel like it’s really close to being good.

“Rather than trying to force it or press the issue, I’m going to be patient. I’m driving the ball with more confidence and better than I ever have. I don’t know if the stats show it or not, but I know that I am. This has not been a good putting year. I think that’s why the results haven’t been there.

“But I had a good breakthrough these last couple of weeks since the US Open (he was 11th in the Scottish Open). Working with Dave Stockton I have the direction that I want and I feel much better with the putter.

“But we’ll see. That’s why we play the game, you just never know. How I feel, it’s not the frustration that you would think, given the year I’ve had relative to the last past 20-plus years on Tour.”

Mickelson’s victory at Muirfield 12 months ago made him the third consecutive Open champion over the age of 40, following on from Darren Clarke at Sandwich in 2011 and Ernie Els in 2012.

Mickelson celebrated his 44th birthday the day after his first unsuccessful attempt to complete a career grand slam in the 
US Open at Pinehurst last month, but insists he is coping well with the health issues caused by suffering from psoriatic arthritis.

“I actually feel better than I have in years and I’ve had to work a little bit harder,” added the left-hander, who withdrew from tournaments in San Diego and Texas earlier this year with back and muscle injuries respectively.

“Every day I have to start my day on a physio ball or on a TRX (resistance) band and strengthen my back, core and legs and so forth to make sure that I’m able to withstand the practice sessions that I’m about to have.

“At the end of the day I have to do the same thing, but I feel better than I have in a long time.

“I believe that the next five years are going to be some of the best in my career.”

Winning the US Open – a tournament he has finished runner-up in a record six times – to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in claiming all four major titles is understandably now Mickelson’s highest priority.

But the world No 13 denies any suggestion that his motivation to win further Open titles – or any major titles – would wane.