Phil Mickelson targets U.S. Open

SAN DIEGO -- Much of the focus this year for Phil Mickelson will be on the U.S. Open and his attempt to complete the career Grand Slam.

But Mickelson is not only intent on winning the one major trophy that has eluded him, he wants multiple U.S. Open titles.

"It's a tournament I've played too well in over the years not to finally win and I actually believe I'll win a couple,'' Mickelson said Wednesday at Torrey Pines, where he makes his PGA Tour season debut Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. "I'm not putting it all on one week.''

That's heady stuff from Mickelson, who will turn 44 the weekend of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where he famously finished second to the late Payne Stewart in 1999.

Mickelson put himself in this position by capturing the Open Championship last summer at Muirfield. It was his fifth major title and left just the U.S. Open for a career Slam. His runner-up finish a month earlier at the U.S. Open was his record sixth in that championship.

But as he said last week in Abu Dhabi, where he finished tied for second in a European Tour event, Mickelson is very much looking forward to this season due to some equipment changes that help him feel better about his game.

"I am really excited because two areas of my game that I've not been as efficient as I would like in the last three or four years have turned into strengths,'' Mickelson said. "One of them is putting. I putted great last year and I had a remarkable turnaround and feel great with the putter. And the other is the driver. We have done a complete reversal on the direction, technologically speaking. It has made a world of difference for me and my game.

"As the club heads have gotten bigger, my driving's gotten worse. Having the center of gravity lower and more forward has allowed me to make the same golf swing as my irons and hit the drives and the shots that I want and that I expect. It's just made driving a lot easier. I drove it the best I ever have Sunday in Abu Dhabi when I needed to hit fairways. So with those two weaknesses or areas of my game that I have not been happy with becoming strengths, I'm more excited about this year than any year ever.''

Mickelson was in position to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday but a triple-bogey -- he tried to hit a shot right-handed and ended up hitting the ball twice -- on the 13th hole was too much to overcome.

He did bounce back to birdie three of his last five holes, finishing one stroke behind Spain's Pablo Larrazabal.

"What made that week so good for me personally is that I got better each day,'' Mickelson said. "I started to strike the ball better each day, from terrible the first day to really good as the weekend came about. Putting felt great, the short game was really good, and I worked on the areas that were not feeling good.

"My distance control was not sharp last week. I spent the last two days working on distance control and getting my irons dialed in. I'm excited about this week because I feel like my game for starting the year feels pretty sharp.''

Mickelson, a San Diego native, announced he has extended his endorsement agreement with KPMG for three more years and also discussed his plans for a renovation of Torrey Pines' North course, where each player plays one round of the tournament on Thursday or Friday.

He expects work to commence in about a year, once planning and design details are complete.

Mickelson will play the North course in the opening round along with Bubba Watson and Jason Day. Their tee time is at 12:30 p.m. ET, followed by a 1:30 p.m. start on Friday on the South course.

It's only January, and Mickelson has a lot of golf to play in the coming weeks, including next week's Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he is the defending champion, and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

But he also knows the U.S. Open at Pinehurst will continue to be a topic of conversation wherever he goes.

"I love the fact that I have one tournament to go, that I have one to get that career Grand Slam,'' Mickelson said. "I'm not going to hide from it. It's pretty obvious that would be a career goal of mine to win the career Grand Slam, and the U.S. Open is the final link.''