UPDATE 1-Golf-Smiling Mickelson at a loss to explain Open agony

LYTHAM ST ANNES, England, July 20 Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:56pm BST

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LYTHAM ST ANNES, England, July 20 (Reuters) - There was no breaking Phil Mickelson's spirit but he was at a loss for words after slumping to a woeful eight-over-par 78 to miss the British Open cut on Friday.

The friendly American, smiling while scratching his head in bemusement as he struggled to explain his poor showing, even had a pen handy to sign a host of autographs in the drizzling rain.

"I don't know what to say right now," the four-times major winner told reporters behind the Lytham practice green while Tiger Woods played the first hole.

"I've got a way to go. The last two months have been pretty poor play so I'm a little frustrated. The scores are really far off. I don't know what to say."

Prior to his 11-over-par effort at Lytham, Mickelson had shown signs of the form that fired him to victory at Pebble Beach in February, where he outplayed 14-times major winner Woods, followed by three top-10s in his next five starts.

Mickelson broke his snap of eight consecutive over-par rounds en-route to finishing tied-16th at the Scottish Open last week, prompting talk he could go one better than his second place at last year's Open.

It was not to be, however, for the 42-year-old who has only one other top-10 finish in 19 Opens and has now missed four cuts at the oldest major.

For the former world number two it will be back to the drawing board and more work with coach Butch Harmon, who said after Mickelson's opening 73 he had spotted a flaw in the American's swing.

"I'll have a week to get sharp before Akron and the PGA," Mickelson said in reference to next month's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the year's final major at Kiawah Island from Aug. 9-12.

Any serious talk seemed to wear Mickelson down and the Ryder Cup player preferred to joke with reporters after a bad day at the office.

"I tried to look in every bunker, I really tried," he said to laughter after another typically errant performance off the tee.

Mickelson even laughed off poorly-positioned photographers clambering for position on the seventh hole.

"It wasn't going to hurt me. It might have hurt my score a little bit," he said, bringing more laughs from the assembled reporters before pulling out his pen for a marathon autograph-signing session. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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