By Tony Jimenez
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - 'Bringing On Back The Good Times' was a chart hit in the 1960s and the sentiment could be true of Phil Mickelson this week as he bids to retain the British Open title he won so spectacularly last year.
The popular American produced a memorable closing 66 to emerge from the pack and snatch victory at Muirfield 12 months ago, his first in golf's oldest major championship at the 20th attempt.
Mickelson has suffered something of a reaction since then, failing to return to the winner's circle and recording just two top-10 finishes, but he says it is simply a matter of time before he gets his form back.
"I believe the next five years are going to be some of the best in my career," the 44-year-old told reporters on Monday.
"It obviously hasn't been a good year and normally I would be discouraged or frustrated but I'm not. I know I haven't played well, but the parts feel a lot better than the whole.
"I don't know when it will all click together, if it will be this week, in three weeks or in a month...but it should be soon."
Mickelson, who will play alongside 2002 and 2012 winner Ernie Els and U.S. Masters champion Bubba Watson in Thursday's opening round at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, said he felt his sharpness beginning to return last month.
"This has not been a good putting year... but I've had a good breakthrough these last couple of weeks since the U.S. Open," added the five-times major winner.
"I feel much better with the putter and I feel from here on out I should have more consistent weeks.
"I'm driving the ball with more confidence and better than I ever have. I don't know if the stats show it or not, but I know that I am.
"Rather than trying to force it or press the issue, I'm going to be patient. I feel better physically than I have in years."
Mickelson said his mental preparations for the third major of the season were different this year.
"The way I used to feel was, 'Am I ever going to break through, play well on a links course and win the British Open'?" he explained.
"Now I know that I can. I know I've done it and it takes a lot of pressure off me. But, more than that, when I arrive as a past champion it just feels terrific."
Mickelson admitted it was a tough moment when he had to hand the coveted Claret Jug back to the R&A (Royal & Ancient) organizers.
"It's been a really fun year with that jug because I've been able to share it with a lot of family and friends who have helped me throughout my career," he said.
"It was fun to see the faces of the people that have such respect and reverence for the game of golf and this championship, and what it means to be able to take a picture with it or drink out of it.
"One of the things I stressed is we have to treat the Claret Jug with the reverence and respect that it deserves and only put good stuff in it," said Mickelson to roars of laughter.
The most expensive source of liquid refreshment to be had from Mickelson's trophy over the past 12 months was some burgundy that is estimated to be worth at least 10,000 pounds ($17,000) per bottle.
"One of my friends, their definition of 'good stuff' was a bottle of 1990 Romanee-Conti wine," said the American.
"Now I didn't know what this was when I drank it, I just knew it was really good....it was the best bottle that was ever put in there," added a grinning Mickelson. "We drank a few of those bottles that night."
($1 = 0.5877 British Pounds)
(Editing by Tim Collings)