By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
in Abu Dhabi
For Phil Mickelson, the road to golf’s fabled Grand Slam could well begin in the Gulf at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
During the course of a stellar 22-year career, American Mickelson has won three Masters Tournament and one US PGA Championship, while the 43 year old memorably stormed to a maiden Claret Jug at The Open Championship at Muirfield last summer.
Still eluding him, though, despite an astonishing six runner-up finishes, is the US Open Championship and Mickelson, this week playing in the UAE capital for a second time and first since 2011, says the foundation for a Major bid in 2014 could well be laid this week at the opening event of The European Tour’s annual ‘Desert Swing’.
“I feel like to play well in the Masters, to play well in the US Open, it's important to start the year right and get in contention,” he said. “You don't want to be in the final group Sunday of a Major Championship having not been in that position earlier in the year.
“That pressure is unique and difficult and you need to be able to have confidence and recent experience to deal with that.
“So that's why it's important to play well on the West Coast on thePGA Tour and to play well here in Abu Dhabi on The European Tour.”
After twice taming the blustery links of Scotland in a magical two weeks last July when he won both the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and The Open in consecutive weeks, Mickelson is now turning his attentions to the distinctive challenges of gulf golf and says this week’s championship, and the stunning layout on which it is hosted, presents the ideal starting point.
“I'm excited to be back here to Abu Dhabi,” he continued. “It's a great city, country, and we are all excited with what HSBC has done to bring world class golf to Abu Dhabi and the UAE.
“From a player standpoint and to start the year it's important we start with the fundamentals and get a good foundation for our golf game. We have got great practice facilities here, as well as a golf course that can identify your strengths and your weaknesses.
“It's a world class course and in immaculate shape and you can easily identify where you're playing well and where you're not.”
Mickelson, who finished tied 37th in his previous appearance at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, also revealed that he has a new driver in the bag and is excited about unleashing it this week.
He said: “As I look back on 2013, I played some of my best golf and had some huge breakthroughs. But I did most of it without a driver.
“This year, we have the best driver I've ever hit that lowers my spin rate just like my three wood. I drive it longer and straighter with my driver than I did with my three wood. It's a whole different weapon in my arsenal now. And if I drive the ball well, like I have been in practice and I have been this off season, heading into this 2014 season, it could be the best year of my career for that simple reason.”