Title: Armed with Claret Jug, Phil Mickelson brimming with confidence for Bridgestone and beyond
Description: Adding the Claret Jug to Phil Mickelson’s entourage might have turned up the smack level with his closest friends. When Keegan Bradley double-checked their Tuesday tee time at Firestone Country Club, where he captured last year’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, Bradley couldn’t resist a jab at the newly crowned British Open winner. “I said, ‘I know you’re champion golfer of the year, but I’ll teach you how to play Akron if you want,’ ” Bradley said. “He only responded with, ‘I won there when you were 9 years old.’ ” Mickelson’s only triumph at Firestone came in 1996, during a run from 1995-2000 when he finished no lower than fourth. His best result on the South Course since was a tie for fourth in 2008, with 36th his average finish. But after hearing and seeing the confidence that flowed from Mickelson on Tuesday, anything seems possible the rest of the year. His stunning triumph at Muirfield “nine days ago,” as Mickelson was quick to point out, might invite reminiscing about the greatest round of his life. But Mickelson, 43, has pushed that aside to focus on this week’s Bridgestone Invitational, next week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., and the four-event FedExCup playoffs, which begin Aug. 22. Mickelson was so in command of the room, so intent on looking his questioners in the eye during his news conference, that he removed a large planter of flowers obscuring his view. “Right now I’m playing as well as I ever have,” he said. “I want to make sure I stay focused this week and next week because I think there’s an opportunity to add to this year and make this year every bit as special as it can be. I’ve been playing some of my best golf the last few months. I’m excited about these upcoming events.” Mickelson has two victories in 2013 on the PGA Tour (including the Waste Management Phoenix Open), along with the Scottish Open. He’s finished in the top three six times in 15 events and earned $4.86 million, surpassing his total in each of the past three years. He suffered a heartbreaking loss at the U.S. Open at Merion, only to rebound for his fifth major victory.