REUTERS - Phil Mickelson has pushed aside the distraction of a federal probe to warm up for the U.S. Open at this week's FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mickelson has stayed committed to his golf even as reports swirled last week that U.S. investigators were looking into possible insider trading by the five-time major winner, billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn and Las Vegas gambler William Walters.
The 43-year-old Mickelson, who confirmed the investigation on Saturday but denied any wrongdoing, was a runnerup to Harris English last year at TPC Southwind before finishing second behind Englishman Justin Rose in the U.S. Open at Merion.
Hoping to go one better in both events this time around, Mickelson spent time at Pinehurst No. 2 earlier this week before heading to Memphis ready to attack the golf course as the tournament's headline act.
He comes in without great form to speak of, having not posted a top 10 finish on the U.S. tour this season.
Should he fail to do so this week it would be the first time in his professional career to arrive at a national championship without a top 10 on his early season record.
The last time he headed to the U.S. Open without a good result was 1992 as a fresh-faced 21-year-old amateur.
"I would have liked to have better performances this year. I need to get four good rounds and get some momentum for next week,” Mickelson told reporters following his Pro-am round Wednesday.
“I love this golf course as a preparation for next week. The areas around the greens, which are critical next week at Pinehurst, are very similar here.
“You have the low cut Bermuda grass with the grain cut into you. We have a lot of delicate chip shots, it’s really a great place to get ready and I’m happy I am here.
“I think it greatly lifted my chances last year heading to the Open and I hope it is the same again.”
Mickelson had his moments at last week's Memorial Tournament in Ohio, including a hot start in the opening round to be five-under through 15 holes, before finishing bogey, double-bogey, double-bogey.
Similar rollercoaster efforts continued through the tournament to leave him in a tie for 49th.
“I need to finish off the rounds. I feel like I'm hitting good shots. I have to finish the rounds off and shoot a number. I don't feel like the parts are off, but the score has been off,” he said.
“I have to just stay sharp, salvage shots, fight through each round and see if I can finish strong.
“Last week I finished a lot of the rounds very poorly and now I have to get some momentum for next week and the best way to do that is to shoot low numbers.
“I think there is a chance to go low here."
After winning last year's British Open, Mickelson is just a U.S. Open win away from the career grand slam. He has famously missed out with six runnerup finishes, the first at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Joining Mickelson at the Memphis event is defending champion English, big-hitting Dustin Johnson, the 2012 winner, and former U.S. Open winners Webb Simpson (2012) and Graeme McDowell (2010).
(Reporting by Ben Everill; Editing by Ian Ransom)
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