Featured Golf News
Mickelson after Fourth Masters Title
If Phil Mickelson can win this week's Masters he'll tie Tiger Woods for second-place on the all-time victory list with four green jackets. The two rivals will be tied for second with Arnold Palmer behind Jack Nicklaus' record of six wins.
Mickelson, currently tied with Nick Faldo with three victories, last won the Masters in 2010. Perhaps the most indelible memory of that tournament came on the par-5 13th hole in the final round. After his tee shot stopped in pine straw to the right of the fairway, he swung a mighty 6-iron from 200 yards that split a narrow gap through trees and stopped 4 feet from the hole. Though he missed the eagle try, he tapped in for birdie and went on to win by three over Lee Westwood.
"I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green," he told reporters afterward. "I was going to have to hit a decent shot. The gap . . . it wasn't huge, but it was big enough, you know, for a ball to fit through.
"I just felt like, at that time, I needed to trust my swing and hit a shot," he added. "And it came off perfect."
The other signature moment came when, with victory in hand after his final putt on the 18th green, Mickelson embraced long-time caddie Jim McKay and was greeted by his wife Amy and their three young children. Amy had endured breast-cancer treatment and that Sunday was her first appearance during 2010 Masters' week.
"I didn't really want to look up because I knew I'd get choked up if I saw her," Mackay after the 2010 tournament. "It was great to see her there, for sure."
"It was an emotional win for us," Mickelson reflected on Tuesday of this year's Masters. "It's cool to look back now on where we're at now and look back and think, you know, how far we've come. So it's kind of a barometer - time barometer on where we are now and we are excited about that."
On Tuesday, the 41-year-old Mickelson, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May, met with reporters and talked about why he's been successful at Augusta National and how his 2012 campaign has him prepared to make a good run at his fourth green jacket. Here's what Lefty had to say.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today we welcome Phil Mickelson. Phil, thanks for agreeing to spend some time with us and take some questions. As you know, Phil is a three time winner at the Masters: 2004, 2006, and the exciting 2010 win. You were recently elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, and you had your 40th PGA win this year at the AT&T Pebble Beach. This is your 20th Masters appearance. Comments before we take questions?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm glad this week is finally here. As a golfer, this is the week we look forward to the most and probably are thinking about since the last major championship, the PGA. So the entire off season, we have been dreaming about this week starting. I've been here now five days or so preparing and getting ready. I'm just excited that the week is finally here. It's my favorite week of the year, and I just enjoy every minute of it.
Q. Is it somewhat easier this week, the fact that people are not saying, oh, this is Phil Mickelson's tournament to lose like last year, because you had won in Houston?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know if that matters either way. You have to be prepared when you get here. For me personally, I like how I've kind of built into this week. I started at Bay Hill, started to play some good golf but hit a few loose shots. Eliminated a lot of the loose shots last week and steadily got better. I had three days last week here on the course, as well. I feel like I'm playing well and I'm looking forward to this week.
Q. What is the key to having success on the greens, other than just making putts?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that it's easier to remember the breaks than it is to see them. And the greens are very challenging to actually see what the ball is going to do, to be able to visualize what it will do on the surface. They are so fast that everything is magnified. If you do get it a little bit off line, it just gets magnified and goes even further off line. Reading them is the most important thing.
Q. You had a chance to play a practice round with Randy Lewis, the Mid Am champ who is playing here for the first time at age 54. Is that something you enjoy doing, showing people around and showing them what you remember, and also if you can comment on his game?
PHIL MICKELSON: It wasn't anything that was planned. I ran into him when I was here and I was playing with some of the members the following day and we had room for one more, needed a fourth to make a game, and asked Randy if he wanted to join and he was available. I thought that he had a really solid game. Kept the ball in play. I think it's really cool what he did, winning the Mid Am as a gentleman eligible for the Senior Am. I love that story. I hope he has a good week.
Q. You know the course so well, so what does five days of preparation do for you here?
PHIL MICKELSON: It allows me to relearn the course and to execute a lot of the shots that I will be hitting throughout the week. It usually gets magnified at tournament time, meaning the course will get a little bit firmer, faster greens, and will get a little bit firmer and tighter around the greens. I don't know if that's going to happen this week. It seems that some of the planning I have made may go by the wayside. As soft as the golf course is, you can fire at a lot of the pins. The greens are soft. I don't want to say they are slow, but it's just not the same Augusta. It's wet around the greens, and there's no fear of the course. You've got to attack it this week. Unless something changes, and I know they have SubAir and hopefully they will be able to use it, but unless they change it, it's going to be a birdie fest.
Q. Since you put in so much time preparing, is it disappointing not to see the conditions?
PHIL MICKELSON: When the subtleties don't come out, the experience of playing here in the past is not as important, because you don't have to fear the greens and you don't have to know where the ball will end up and you don't have to fear certain shots because you can get up and down from the edges. Those shots are not as hard. Therefore, I think there's a very good chance that a young player, inexperienced, fearless player that attacks this golf course can win if you don't need to show it the proper respect.
Q. Is any part of your game that you've been focusing on to get ready to play here?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes. I guess it wouldn't really be one particular area, but if it were putting, it would be lag putting. If it were chipping, it would actually be putting from off the green rather than lob shots; and 50-yard shots. I find I don't hit too many shots from off the green; I end up putting off the green. I do these a little bit more in my practice than I would normally. And then distance wise, I go after it as hard as I will ever swing this one week of the year.
Q. Can you do some handicapping? Who is the favorite and what are the odds for you to win?
PHIL MICKELSON: I could, but what would it matter? (Laughter).
Q. It would help my column a lot.
MODERATOR: Next question. (Laughter.)
Q. How are you handling this whole Hall of Fame thing? You're still obviously playing great golf. To be honored next month in Ponte Vedra, how are you dealing with that, the honor?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's a cool honor, and some people are helping me with some of the logistics about who can come and so forth. I think it's a great honor, and I think golf is unique in that the players are elongating their careers more so than any other sport, and we might - I think it should probably be looked at to move back to 50 would be probably a good age where you might want to - because I like the Hall of Fame as an opportunity to reflect on your career. And I'm still in the stage where I'm looking forward at any career, and looking forward, looking ahead to other opportunities and other tournaments. I would like it to be more of a reflection, but it's still a great honor.
Q. Kind of based off Tiger winning at Bay Hill, you've actually, I believe, had the longest streak going of having at least a win a year for the last several, but when you do go through long droughts, long for you, I think people assume that players of your guys' caliber don't have confidence issues and whatnot. Do you have a feel what that win might do for Tiger as he moves forward, just basing on your experience where you've gone stretches where you have not performed the way you want to?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's a huge win for him to be successful this week. I think it really increases the opportunities, because it gives him a lot of confidence and it makes being in that situation after having already closed the deal a lot easier to do. And you would not want to have your first win in a couple of years be at a major; it would be that much more difficult. So I think it's huge for him, and I think he's going to have a great week, because he's obviously been playing well, and to have won heading in I think gives him a lot of confidence. Sucks for us, but (laughter) . . .
Q. You're at a point in your life where you've gone through some perspective changing experiences with your health and your family's health, and you've won everything you would seemingly want to win. What keeps you excited?
PHIL MICKELSON: Passion. I love the game of love. I love competing on great courses like Augusta. I get excited when this tournament comes around. I get excited for the first week of April. I've just all had this great love and passion for the game of golf. Plus I love to compete. I'm just a naturally competitive individual, so I love to compete against other players.
Q. Given how much you love -
PHIL MICKELSON: I like that tie, a little Georgia peach going, Tom? It looks sharp. (Laughter.) Very good. Go ahead. Carry on. (Smiling.)
Q. Given how much this place means to you and the role it's played in your life, and you're excited, as you've mentioned, how do you balance that with the pressure that you feel when you come here, considering how much it means to you and it's but once a year.
PHIL MICKELSON: After winning in 2004, pressure has not been the same. Because there was this burden of having never won a major. There was this burden of wanting to win the Masters so bad and being a part of the history of the tournament. When I won in 2004, it was no longer pressure I felt; it was excitement. Every time this week came around, I was excited to get my game geared up for this event to try to win it again, to add another green jacket in the closet, and to try and build off of that first win, already knowing that I'm going to be a part of this tournament every year, knowing that Tuesday of the Masters, tonight, I've got dinner plans. That kind of stuff took a lot of the pressure off.
Q. Just as a quick follow, given the fact that you're a competitor, why is it in golf that players share their knowledge and in a sense their trade secrets with other players in a place like this in practice rounds? Why?
PHIL MICKELSON: First of all, you only share a little bit (laughter) and you want them to know that you've got an advantage.
MODERATOR: Next question down in front.
Q. Are you able to step outside of it and see it from our perspective, with so many of the best players playing at a high level and why there would be such a high level of anticipation for this year's tournament, or is that not a factor?
PHIL MICKELSON: Not really. I just know that I'm doing everything I can to get my game to perform the absolute best this week, and to start right from Thursday, because as many players have won major championships building into the event and getting better as the week progresses, I don't think that's the case this week. I think because everybody is sharp, I think the scores are going to be low and I've got to be sharp from day one, from shot one, to be able to compete and be in it for Sunday.
Q. From a sports fan's perspective, can you see why people would be excited?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm sure if I looked at it from that point of view, like you asked, I probably would. But again, looking from the inside out, I'm trying to just get my game sharp.
MODERATOR: You okay now? Next question. (Laughter.)
Q. After having so much success, do you ever go back and examine the three victories that you've had and say, what was it about this, and what did I do right here, and why is it working so well in those years? And if so, what have you learned?
PHIL MICKELSON: The biggest thing I've learned and the biggest thing I look back on, on my three major wins relative to the times that I've come close and have not won, has come down into a strategic change on hole 15 for me. Because I played hole 15 in the past as a must birdie, and I have made some epic numbers there (laughter) that have just shot me right out of the tournament. And I look at 15 totally different now. I'll accept par. I'll take par there, and I'm not going to complain or try to force a 4. I'll probably make two birdies and have a 4.5 scoring average on that hole. Maybe I'll get lucky and make an eagle or make a putt or what have you, but I'll be happy with one or two birdies there, whereas before I was trying to always force the issue on 15 as a must birdie. I've made huge numbers doing that, and it has cost me a number of Masters.
Q. What's it like for your family and how is everyone in your family?
PHIL MICKELSON: Everybody's great, and they have school off next week. So we'll go straight from here to a week long vacation in the Bahamas and hang out together, and they will be there for the weekend to enjoy that. So they will get in Friday.
Q. When you think back of your most recent win here, what does that mean just in terms of what it was like for Amy that week and you together?
PHIL MICKELSON: It was an emotional win for us. It's cool to look back now on where we're at now and look back and think, you know, how far we've come. So it's kind of a barometer - time barometer on where we are now and we are excited about that.
Q. You talked about the importance of your preparation, that kind of stuff. I'm curious about the practice area here and how much it helps in terms of preparation now versus what it was like before the changes and renovations.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's one of the best practice facilities I've ever seen. And to be able to work on your short game with greens that are that speed, that contour; bunker sand similar to what's on the golf course or the same. I don't know of another place in the world that you can really prepare like that than you can on the practice facility here. The facility before, before this practice facility was built, it was limited. You could only work on a few shots, and now you can work on just about every shot that you'll see.
Q. Some of the magazines in their cover stories have talked about this week being Rory versus Tiger. Just wondering, where does that leave you?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm cool with it. I don't have a problem with it. I am where I am and I'm fine with it.
Q. Do you feel that's an especially big week for those guys versus the rest of you guys somehow?
PHIL MICKELSON: No. I think that a lot is going to depend on how the course plays, in my opinion. A lot is going to depend on how soft the course is, how aggressive you can be. I think that if it plays like this, that there won't be the big mistakes made by any players - any of the young players. I think that it will be a crowded leaderboard, and we'll see, like I say, a big birdie feast. If there's some firmness that comes out and the green speeds get a little bit quicker and get a little bit firmer, I think we will see some of the young players make some mistakes that will cost them the tournament and the experienced players who position the ball properly and vary their risk/reward shot making, I think they will have an easier time staying on top of the leaderboard.
Q. When did you rethink your strategy on 15, and how did you do it? Do you go back and crunch some numbers? Is there anything in particular that precipitated that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think when you get hit in the head enough times, you look back and say, you know, you know maybe I should take a step back. That's kind of what happened to me after just getting hammered by that hole so many times over the 90s; that when I finally won in 2004, I just accepted the fact that it's a hard hole, and if I make four, great, but five is not bad. I'm not going to lose ground, per se, to the field.
Q. When they made the changes here I think in 2002, how much did that change the course? Does it suit your game more than Tiger's game at all?
PHIL MICKELSON: What it did was it allowed the course to have more than one defense. The only defense it had in the 90s was the greens, and so they were extremely firm, extremely fast, speeds and firmness that we haven't seen since. Because now, distance is also a defense, as well as the trees and the first cut, and there's some other things that have been added. So having more ways to make the golf course challenging rather than just the greens has brought in more elements into play. It's now more important to be accurate off the tee. That big round on 15 and 17, that's not there anymore and you have to hit a straight drive on those two holes unless you're going to have a tough time getting to the green. First cut now adds a different element of distance control in the shots. So now that it has more defenses, you don't see the greens being the same challenge as they were, which were very close to the edge back then.
Q. There's always that next group of young golfers that we like to cast as the ones who are going to try to do the things that you've done or that Tiger has done. Where in that realm do you see Rory? What kind of future, what sort of challenger is he to the game of golf? Can he win here, whether it's this year or Sunday on this course.
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that he's an incredible player, that you could tell when he first came out, he was going to be an incredible player. I think like everybody here, you can see his talent and his ability. He plays without fear, which is a great way to play. When you get soft conditions like at the U.S. Open, he's going to light it up. And I think that he's going to continue his great play and if he ends up - if he ends up learning this golf course, I think he's going to win here a number of times.
Q. You talked about 15, changing your approach there. What about your approach on the other par-5s?
PHIL MICKELSON: Fairly aggressive. I mean, 13 is by far my best hole out here. It plays a lot easier for a left handed player, being able to cut it around that corner. And so I play that hole very well. 2 and 8 are holes that you're thinking 4, you really need to make a 4, but you have to respect some of the challenges that it does present, too, with the water left. On 8, that bunker can make things difficult if you go in there, as well as the difficulty of the green. But you're really thinking 4 on those holes. The par 5s is where you have to take advantage of it, if you want to play well, which is why I would force the issue on 15. But the penalty on 15 is not like 2 and 8. 2 and 8, if you play smart, you are not going to make worse that be 5; you'll make 4. On 15, you'll make a lot worse than 5. I'm living proof. (Laughter).
Q. You're so competitive, what would it mean to get to four and tie Arnie and Tiger?
PHIL MICKELSON: A lot.
Q. Maybe you could answer a little more on that.
PHIL MICKELSON: It would mean an awful lot (speaking slowly).
MODERATOR: Final question. (Laughter).
Q. The names that haven't yet captured their first major, Westwood, Donald, Garcia, Scott; if you could offer them advice, reflecting back when you got into your 30s and as great a player as you are, and always have been, and yet had not attained that first green jacket or first major, what do you tell these guys if you get them that room? I know you're not in their mind, but what do you say to these guys that haven't broken through?
PHIL MICKELSON: I would say probably the same thing that Dave Pelz said to me in the off season of 2003 as we were heading into the 2004 season. And I'm going to wait to share that until my career is over. Seriously. (Laughter).
MODERATOR: That's it. Thank you all. Thank you, Phil. Good luck this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.