Mickelson ready to start his drive toward Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

After Mickelson finished second at the US Open and won back-to-back events in the UK in July – without a driver in the bag – his enthusiasm in Abu Dhabi seems legitimate, writes Steve Elling.

Phil Mickelson speaks with the media at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club prior to the start of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Tuesday. Scott Halleran / Getty Images
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ABU DHABI // As a midday call to prayer wafted over the practice range at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the melody was all but drowned out by a piercing sound that was music of a different sort to Phil Mickelson’s ears.

One by one, the world No 5 sent laser beams onto the back of the range as he tested a series of new drivers that had him feeling almost giddy about his 2014 season, which begins tomorrow at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Mickelson, 43, won three tournaments last year, including the British Open, yet competed most of the season with a self-imposed handicap of sorts. For much of the year, he jettisoned his driver, sacrificed some horsepower and plodded onwards with a modified 3-wood.

Mickelson has forever been a tinkerer and techie when it comes to the 14 clubs in his bag, but rarely has he seemed so upbeat about his chances on the eve of a new season. Entering his 23rd professional season, he belted out some heavy lyrics.

“As I look back on 2013, I played some of the best golf of my career and had some huge breakthroughs,” Mickelson said. “But I did most of it without a driver.”

Mickelson ditched the club in June while playing in Memphis, then played a series of huge summer tournaments in succession using a modified 3-wood instead, including the US Open, British Open and PGA Championship. A fiend for distance, he was practically giddy about where the new club might take him.

“It’s a whole different weapon in my arsenal,” he said of the club, which reduces the sidespin he imparts on the ball. “If I drive the ball well, like I have been in this offseason, this 2014 season could be the best year of my career for that simple reason.”

It is rarely that simple with Mickelson, the most nerve-jangling player in the game’s upper tier, but after finishing second at the US Open and winning back-to-back events in the UK in July – without a driver in the bag – his enthusiasm seems legitimate.

“I hit it much straighter because I don’t have to manipulate it,” said Mickelson, who is playing for the second time in Abu Dhabi. “I just swing it.”


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