Mickelson not expecting much at PGA

TULSA, Okla. - At times Tuesday, it was hard to tell if Phil Mickelson was a promoter for the PGA Tour or a contender for the PGA Championship.

During his news conference in advance of the season's last major, Mickelson insisted he'd already won a major this year - The Players Championship - and talked more than once about how excited he was for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which debut in two weeks.

Although that must make tour commissioner Tim Finchem happy, it's still hard know what "Fans of Phil" who show up at steamy Southern Hills this week should expect from the injured star.

Mickelson conceded his left wrist is still less than 100 percent. But he said he has been cleared to practice and no longer needs to apply a substance on the wrist to numb the pain.

A player who used to prepare for some majors, like last year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot, over the span of weeks and months, now finds encouragement in being able to practice more over the last several days.

"I've been able to put more time in my game now in the last week or two than I have in the last three months," Mickelson said. "And so I'm really excited about getting back out and playing. I'm excited about the upcoming FedEx Cup Series, but especially excited about trying to play well here at Southern Hills."

Southern Hills has been good to Lefty. He finished third at the PGA here in 1994 and tied for seventh at the 2001 U.S. Open.

But he wasn't injured then. His experiences so far this year when playing at less than 100 percent have been bad.

He hurt his wrist Memorial Day weekend, practicing for the U.S. Open. He missed the cut at Oakmont in June, at the AT&T National in July, then once more later in the month at the British. It marked the first time he'd missed three straight cuts on tour since 1995. A 46th-place finish last week at Bridgestone marks the only time he's cashed a check on the tour this summer.

In between all that, he hit a pair of awful drives on No. 18 in the Scottish Open - once in regulation, then again in a playoff - to give away a victory there. Besides that, he hasn't been competitive.

He thinks things are getting better for this week. Not all the way back, but better.

"I've been talking to the doctors. They think another two weeks, I should be 100 percent," Mickelson said.

Two weeks, Mickelson reminds, is the start of the PGA Tour's first foray into establishing a playoff-like system to bring more oomph to the end of the year.

The winner will get $10 million in deferred payments. Mickelson said he'd like to see something more dramatic, like a big brick of cash laid out on the 18th green, sort of like they do at the World Series of Poker.

"I think it would be cool," he said. "But it's just me. I don't know."

Some might say all this talk about the playoffs seems premature with "Glory's Last Shot" bearing down on what will turn out to be the toughest field in golf this season, with 97 of the top 100 in the world ranking.

For Mickelson, a win at the PGA Championship - which is run by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour - would make him one of only five players to record a major victory in four consecutive years. Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen are the others.

Of course, according to Mickelson, he should already be on that list.

"I'd love to double up and win two," Mickelson said. "But that's just - we look at The Players a little differently. That was one of the biggest events that I was gunning for."

The Players debate was once reserved for March, but now takes place in May. That's the event's new spot on the schedule, during which Finchem and the PGA Tour trot out their biggest tournament, with a $9 million purse and another of the toughest fields in golf, and say that one should be considered a major, too.

Mickelson won The Players this year, marking his second victory and fifth top-5 of the season and giving indications that his meltdown on the final hole of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot last year could really be behind him.

Shortly after that, though, he got hurt practicing out of the rough for the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

Nothing has been the same since.

The good news for Mickelson fans is he insists he'll be fully motivated even after this week is over. Often in the past, he has shut things down - mentally, if not physically - after the last shot at the PGA.

"I missed some tournaments in the middle of the year," Mickelson said. "I hadn't played to the level that I expect. My desire is much higher at this point in the year than it has been in past years. I am looking forward and wanting to play more competitive golf."

How competitive will he be this week?

Seems like anybody's guess.

"I think going into the FedEx Cup, I should be 100 percent," he said. "But I feel close to 100 percent this week."

If not, he'll always have The Players.