(Reuters) - Phil Mickelson is ready to unleash “a whole different weapon in my arsenal” when he launches his 2014 campaign at the $2.7 million HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship on Thursday.
The world number five finally got a monkey off his back last year by winning the British Open, golf’s oldest major, for the first time at the 20th attempt.
Mickelson said he would have a new driver in his bag when he accompanies seventh-ranked Rory McIlroy and defending champion Jamie Donaldson of Wales in the first round in Abu Dhabi, the first event of the European Tour’s three-week Middle East swing.
“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,” the American left-hander told reporters on Tuesday.
“This year I 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 in the off-season, heading into this 2014 season it could be the best year of my career for that simple reason.”
The 43-year-old Californian is making only his second appearance at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, having tied for 37th in 2011.
“I’m excited to be back, it’s a great city and country,” said Mickelson. “It’s important we start the year with the fundamentals and 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,” added Mickelson.
It was in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago that McIlroy signed his new mega-bucks deal to switch from Titleist to Nike and promptly missed the cut in his debut outing with his new equipment.
It would prove a sign of things to come for the Northern Irishman who endured a traumatic year on and off the course before finally scooping his first tournament win of 2013 at the Australian Open in December.
“I feel I’m much better prepared heading into the first event of the season than I was last year,” said McIlroy.
“My swing is in a much better place. I’ve done some really good work on that at the end of last year and in the couple of weeks I’ve had here leading into this tournament.
“Things are really looking good,” added the 24-year-old McIlroy. “I’m in a really good frame of mind and I feel like I’ve built a lot of momentum at the back end of last year and I’m going to try to continue that into this season.”
Editing by Justin Palmer