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Lefty Reflects on 40th Win & Riviera


Phil Mickelson had a landmark final round in last Sunday's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am. The 41-year-old closed with an 8-under 64 to rally from six shots back and overtake 54-hole leader Charlie Wi to nail down the 40th victory of his storied career.

The win, his fourth in the event, was also special because Mickelson knew he had to come through in the clutch to have any chance. "I knew that Sunday's round I needed to go low," he said Wednesday from the site of this week's tournament, the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

Mickelson was also very aware of his playing partner, Tiger Woods. "I knew that I was playing with arguably the greatest player of all time and that I needed to play some of my best golf, and I was able to focus in on each individual shot."

It's not surprising that Mickelson was able to focus so well when going against his long-time nemesis. By out-dueling Woods - who closed with a 3-over 75 down en route to a disappointing T-15 finishing - on Sunday, Mickelson tied Tiger in their head-to-head, final-round showdowns. The two have played in the same last group in 30 official Tour events; each player had the lower score 13 times in those "matches," with four ties.

Mickelson added that that high performance level is less about Woods than himself. "I get on hot streaks and - so I play to win, and I'm going to go for it. I'm going to try to make birdies, I'm going to play aggressive. And when I'm playing well, I make birdies and end up either in contention or winning, and when I don't have it, my mistakes are going to be big. I'm going to have penalty strokes, I'm going to be back in the pack.

"So that's also just a sign of the way my career is and the way I look at the game, because I want to try to win, and if I'm on, I usually have a good opportunity to win."

Here's what else Mickelson said during his sit-down with reporters on the eve of the Northern Trust Open, which he won in both 2008 and '09.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Phil Mickelson. Phil, congratulations on your win last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach. If you want to talk about your thoughts coming into this week to the Northern Trust Open.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I really like Riviera. I mean, it's one of the best courses in the world. I've enjoyed playing here the last four or five years, had some success here in '09 and '10, I believe - or '08 and '09, and I'm looking forward to trying to get in contention this weekend.

Q. I don't know if you passed Patrick Cantlay on the way in, but have you met him and what do you think of his chances this week and sort of overall?

PHIL MICKELSON: I met him a few weeks ago in Palm Springs, and he seems like a really nice person and a heck of a player. I mean, I've obviously seen what he's been doing on the golf course. It's impressive, from Hartford to the U.S. Open to the U.S. Amateur. He's won of the top amateurs in the country and has done a lot for UCLA golf.

Q. You did a little something as an amateur, too. How is it when you step out on the big stage? Is it something where you're just kind of born not being afraid of it?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's really a cool thing to play a Tour event as an amateur, I think. It was something I always dreamt of. I really enjoyed how San Diego and Los Angeles, both tournaments, had an amateur qualifying. I thought that was really a cool feature that gave every amateur in the area an opportunity to get into the tournament. I thought that gave me something to dream about, look forward to every year. I was always appreciative of that. And when I finally did get into the tournament as an amateur, I was 17, and it was an experience of a lifetime. I played a practice round with Seve. That's something I'll always remember. Q. Now that you've had a couple days to reflect on your Sunday round, what stands out? PHIL MICKELSON: What stands out? I just thought it was really a fun, cool round, and I know that a lot of people are saying, where did that round come from after the first three tournaments. Prior to the Hope or prior to the Humana, I had played eight to ten rounds like Sunday's final round, and I've been wondering where has that been these last three weeks. I was wondering what happened those three weeks because I had been playing well prior, and I'm just glad it finally came out when I needed it the most. Q. Recently we were talking to Butch Harmon during a conference call for his DVD coming out. He was saying that he wanted all of his guys to be ready for Augusta. What did he work with you on specifically to get you ready, and what are you thinking about Augusta right now? PHIL MICKELSON: Butch and I are more in the maintenance phase. We're not going through any changes. The swing is what it is. It's where I want it to be, and we're just making sure that it stays there, that there's no major changes that we will be doing. And so it's more just going back to the fundamentals for he and I, getting a good foundation and then getting ready to compete. I have a pretty good understanding of how to play Augusta National, so it's not like I'm looking for any answers. I know how I want to attack it given each pin placement, how I want to hit it, the shots I want to hit, and now it's just a matter of refining and getting ready so that it's there when I need it.

Q. The USGA and R&A are taking a fresh look at anchoring belly putters, all that. I know you give these things a lot of thought. What's your take on them looking at it, and how would you resolve it if you were commissioner for a day or governing body guy for a day?

PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I won't say anything different than what I've said in the past, and that is that it's been legal for however many decades, and to change that I think is really unfair to those that have been using it.

Q. You talked about the fact that you played so well in your preparation for the year before Humana, and it finally came out at Pebble Beach. What's the key for you to be able to play a round like that on command? How do you bring that from your preparation to the golf course?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that because I had been playing like that prior to the season starting, I was just expecting that to happen, and I maybe didn't give it my full attention and my full focus throughout each shot. I knew that Sunday's round I needed to go low. I knew that I was playing with arguably the greatest player of all time and that I needed to play some of my best golf, and I was able to focus in on each individual shot.

Q. What's the best dessert you've ever had at the champions' dinner?

PHIL MICKELSON: At the Masters? I don't know. Are you going there with the fat jokes, pulling that out?

Q. Fred was talking about it, and it just got me thinking about it, he went on and on about your Häagen-Dasz.

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, that was probably the best one. I agree with Fred.

Q. Can you talk about, Callaway seems to think that this driver is really going to boost the company. What is it about this driver that you like, that's good for you?

PHIL MICKELSON: It makes hitting shots off the tee a lot easier. I hit it longer, I hit it straighter, and I feel as though I don't have to manipulate the club. I can just stand up and swing and the ball is going to go straight. I think that - I don't know how the physics of this work, but usually when I hit - I'm able to hit a high, long ball off the tee and I'm also able to hit a low, controlled cut shot off the tee to get to the fairway, usually it's one or the other. Usually driver is not able to hit both. I don't know what they did with the physics of it, but it allows me to hit every shot I'm trying to hit off the tee.

Q. Just to get back to the putter question for a second, if, in fact, the USGA ruled that that anchoring the putter, the belly putter, would be illegal, and what you said, would you be in favor of having a local rule out here that would allow those players that have been basically playing with that putter for their entire careers to be able to play with that putter if they wanted to?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't really have a stance or an opinion on the belly putter. I just think that to have something be legal for 27 years or 30, I don't know how many years it's been legal, and then to take it away where guys have been growing up now practicing and playing with it, I just don't think that that's fair to those players at all.

Q. There's been a lot of change, obviously the USGA has made a lot of changes in your career in regards to equipment and everything else. Do you think at the end that all these changes make sense and that it's really changed how you've dealt with these because it seems like everybody is still hitting the ball as far as they want to and the grooves change didn't really do much and now they're talking about looking at other things?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, what the grooves change has really done is hurt the amateur golfer or will hurt the amateur golfer in the future for the simple that the fact older grooves had the greatest impact on the wedges and the short irons. Given that the high handicapper never hits a green in regulation, the 36 handicapper doesn't, the 8 handicapper hits all but three or four or five, those players are going to be hitting their shot onto the green with a wedge. So it's going to end up affecting those guys a lot more and their inability to stop the ball on the green will be even greater. I don't think that that rule turned out to be the best. Given that my iron play, my grooves were weak to begin with on all my irons except my wedges, my spin rate has gone up 300 rpms per iron since I've gone to Callaway groove. It actually spins it more than the V grooves I used to use because I had V in my irons. So I don't see - the only area I see it affecting is around the greens, and it's going to affect the average guy a lot more than it is somebody like us out here who has the ability to control their wedges and have a good short game.

Q. After the emotional win up at Pebble, what do you have to do to guard against a subconscious letdown in a week like this?

PHIL MICKELSON: Gosh, I feel like I had such a fun week that I want to try and have that again. I don't feel like there's a letdown, I feel like there's an excitement and a new energy to get back in that position. I mean, I love having a chance to win. I know I was six back, but I felt like I was right in it starting the last day. I want to feel that again here at Riviera. I feel like I'm playing well and that if I play my game and focus hard, I should be able to get in contention and have that excitement again.

Q. You're a student of history. This course is steeped in history. How much does that factor into your regard for the place, that you are literally walking in the footsteps of some of the game's greats?

PHIL MICKELSON: It is cool for us as players to play the same courses that many of the great players of the past have walked and played, Hogan, Snead, looking back on their playoff that they had after Hogan's accident here at LA, at Riviera. It's fun. It's a cool thing. It's a great compliment to the golf course to see it withstand the test of time the way it has, the way it's still a challenge for the best players today, regardless of decades of technological advancements. It still tests the players of today.

Q. I had one more quick question about Augusta. That week is filled with so many events, the par-3 and the champions' dinner and just arriving. What's your favorite aspect of that week or is it just playing the event itself?

PHIL MICKELSON: Wednesday afternoon my family usually meets me before the par 3 for lunch on the veranda, on the balcony overlooking - right there by the tree overlooking the first tee. That's one of my favorite parts of the week, because it's the anticipation of the tournament starting. It's sharing some moments with them, caddying in the par 3, and it's looking at all the people in the game of golf, the golf industry, congregating down there below that huge tree there by 1 that I just think has a really cool feel.

Q. You hit 40 last week with the win. What still pushes you? Where does your motivation come from? Where is that ignition for your engine?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, you have to reset goals all the time, so I have some lofty goals now that I've reset that I feel like I can attain, and I want to try to win more tournaments and more major championships, and I love competing. You know, it's been frustrating when I haven't been in contention, when I haven't had those opportunities to win. It's a lot more frustrating for me to finish 25th than it is to finish second at the British Open where I came so close and let it slip away. I would much rather have that where I'm in the thick of it, have that excitement level. That to me is what I really enjoy. And so the motivation is I want to get those opportunities. I want to have more of those opportunities and see if I can finish them off.

Q. How do you go from mopey to magical in 48 hours?

PHIL MICKELSON: A little bit of inspiration from Amy. That certainly helped to get me refocused. I don't know, I think it's a good lesson for me to learn that you just - if you never give up and you stay and you fight hard, you can fight through some bad stretches and still come out on top at the end of the week because you just never know when it'll turn. And it turned shortly thereafter. I ended up playing the front nine, which was my back, at Monterey at 5 under that got me in somewhat contention. I wasn't right in the thick of it, but I was up there where a low round would catch the leaders.

Q. Is that the magic of sports, that you can analyze and use statistics and numbers but then something as ineffable as someone saying, "make birdies," can get you going?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know if that's the magic of sport. I just think that it's a cool element of the game of golf that you just never know when it's going to click, when it's going to turn.

Q. I don't know how much you can go back to '05, but there was a stretch where you won Phoenix, Pebble, and you were atop the leaderboard 10 straight rounds going into Doral and then were tied on Sunday when he came out on top. You pretty much disappeared for the rest of the year. As you look back on that, the you and Tiger final round pairing always carries such a strong element to it. Could that have taken the wind out of your sails, or is it completely unrelated?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's possible, but it's also possible that that's just the way I play. I get on hot streaks and - so I play to win, and I'm going to go for it. I'm going to try to make birdies, I'm going to play aggressive. And when I'm playing well, I make birdies and end up either in contention or winning, and when I don't have it, my mistakes are going to be big. I'm going to have penalty strokes, I'm going to be back in the pack. So that's also just a sign of the way my career is and the way I look at the game, because I want to try to win, and if I'm on, I usually have a good opportunity to win.

Q. So a year of like three wins and 15 top-10s would be a big anomaly for you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Possibly. It's been up and down - I don't know the numbers on that, but I think I've averaged a couple a year, so that's not that out of whack. But if I'm not on, I'm going to end up shooting some big numbers.

MODERATOR: Thanks for your time, and good luck this week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.