(Reuters) - U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson has predicted that Tiger Woods will regain his customary dominant form this year after struggling through a winless 2010 campaign.
Woods, the greatest player of his generation and arguably of all time, spent much of last season unsuccessfully trying to repair his marriage and also undergoing the fourth swing change of his career.
“I expect that he’ll be the Tiger that we’ve known for over a decade, unfortunately,” American Mickelson said with a rueful smile during a news conference at Torrey Pines on Wednesday.
“I saw last year when I played with him in Chicago (at the BMW Championship) and saw him at the Ryder Cup, his game getting back to where it was. His speed was back up.
“He was hitting it long. His touch was coming back. I think he will (be back), yeah.”
Woods, who reigned supreme as world number one for more than five years, has slipped to third in the rankings and will play his first event on the 2011 PGA Tour at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open.
The 14-times major champion has won seven titles at Torrey Pines since turning professional in late 1996 but has not competed here since his playoff victory at the 2008 U.S. Open.
“He usually plays here every year, so having him back is a great plus for this tournament,” said world number six Mickelson. “He has kept this field strong and kept the interest in the event very high. His presence has been great.”
Left-hander Mickelson, who lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, also enjoys a huge comfort level at Torrey Pines where he has won the PGA Tour event three times.
However he has not triumphed here since 2001, and has struggled on the greens since the hosting South Course was redesigned the following year.
“It’s been a learning process for me to relearn this golf course,” said Mickelson. “There are a lot of nuances to it and it’s taken me a while to understand it.
“But I think I have a pretty good grasp on it now, and I’ve been playing it better the last few years.”
Victory at last year’s Masters, his fourth major title, was Mickelson’s only tournament win in 2010 and he has targeted greater consistency this season.
“I didn’t finish the year last year the way I wanted to, and I want to try to make 2011 the year that I thought 2010 was going to be,” he said.
“What I have felt heading into this year is that I’m 40 years old and I’ve been playing this game a long time, and I no longer need to go about changes in my game.
“This is a year where I don’t have to have any change. It’s a year of refinement.
“Developing touch, developing shot making and getting into the nuances of hitting great shots and not having to worry about technique, and it’s a good feeling.”