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Phil in Fine Shape Entering Final Round at Augusta
Phil Mickelson has staged a rally for the ages in the 76th Masters. The 41-year-old followed up a potentially fatal 2-over 74 in the opening round with a 4-under 68 and a 6-under 66 to trail leader Peter Hanson by only a shot.
Mickelson and Hanson will be in Sunday's final group, and Mickelson has a decided advantage in experience at Augusta National Golf Club. Lefty has won three green jackets - with his most recent in 2010, while this is only the second time Hanson's played in the Masters. The Swede's first trip to Georgia was last year, and he didn't make the cut.
The two tee off 2:40 p.m. Eastern time.
On Saturday evening after firing his impressive 6-under 66 - which included a 6-under 30 on the back nine and was the tournament's second-lowest score to Hanson's brilliant 65 in the third round, Mickelson met with reporters and discussed this Masters and his chances on Sunday. Here's what he had to say.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. We would like to welcome Phil Mickelson, three time Masters champion that shot a round of 66 today, and 8 under for the Tournament. We invite your questions.
Q. How was today different from maybe the first two days, just in the way the course was playing; I don't think there was a breath of wind out there.
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, weather wise, it was the most incredible, beautiful day here at Augusta. Perfect for scoring opportunities. Very little wind, soft greens, and pins that you could get to.
Q. You were 4 over through 10 holes -
PHIL MICKELSON: That was a long time ago. (Laughter).
Q. Not hanging your head on that, and knew you had plenty of time and birdies, or what's the thinking there?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think when I look back on this tournament, I go back to Thursday and where I was standing after ten holes and in a position with some very difficult holes coming up to let the round really slide and the tournament slide, but I fought hard to get a couple back, knowing I wasn't going to get them all back in the first round, that there was plenty of golf left; that I would get a hot hand at some point throughout the round. I just needed to not be so far back that it didn't move me off the leaderboard. Sometimes you fall so far back, you make a nice birdie run and you just make the cut. But because I didn't let the round slide, I salvaged a couple of birdies coming in, I left myself in a position where if I did get hot, I could move up the leaderboard, which is what happened the last two days.
Q. How important was the drive out of the pine straw to get your round going?
PHIL MICKELSON: That pin position was pretty easy, so I didn't have to necessarily hit it perfect to have a good wedge shot into that pin. I could have hit it just about anywhere down there. It was more the wedge that was the important shot. It wasn't an overly difficult shot. Unfortunately I've had that shot quite a bit over the years. (Laughter). It's not my favorite one, and it was by far the worst swing that I made all day off the tee. But to salvage that par was a momentum boost, because you don't want to give one back on a par 5 when you're looking at a birdie opportunity, especially where that pin was.
Q. On 15 you went with the flop shot from behind the green. Can you just talk about the risk that's involved with taking a shot like that, and then pulling something like that off.
PHIL MICKELSON: There was a lot of risk, Scott. It wasn't the safest shot, and that's not where I want to be. That pin position is by far the toughest pin position for me to make a four on that hole, because you can't miss short; you're in the water. And long is no bargain, the way the green is pitched severely from back to front in the middle; that's not where I wanted to be. It was 235 counting the downhill to the back edge, and I hit 5 iron. There was just no way I should be able to hit 5 iron that far and I did. For whatever reason, I get excited, I get pumped up, and on that hole, I've hit some long irons there over the years. And unfortunately that was one of them there into a spot that was a very tough up and down. But I took on a little risk, and that's a great example of why I put a 64 degree wedge in the golf bag on this golf course. It allows me to slide underneath it off tight lies, pop the ball up on a situation like that. I don't like to hit the lob shot a lot here. You see me putting from off the green more often than not. Sometimes, that was going to be almost an impossible shot to putt along the ground.
Q. There's a calm in your voice now; is that a conscious effort on your part to be in the moment here?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I think that it's more confidence. I just feel really confident in the way I've been playing and the way I've been putting and in this setting and on this golf course. I love it here and I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters. It's the greatest thing in professional golf.
Q. Can you talk about over your years here, what you've learned about what can happen on the front nine versus what you can do on the back nine. Seems like you were biding your time on the front.
PHIL MICKELSON: That was not my intention. I felt like with being only 2 under and so many guys ahead of me that I needed to make something happen the front nine. The pin positions did not allow me to attack them. Holes like No. 1, that pin position; hole like No. 3, which is a tough one; 4 was a tough one; 6 was a tough one. Those pin positions, I'm trying to hit it to a certain spot about 15 to 35 feet away and I know the break of that putt, and I believe I can make it, and I didn't make any of them. A lot of them came close. A lot of them caught the edge and kind of died around the hole, and I had a lot of tap in pars but I was trying to make something happen on the front and just didn't. But the great thing about that is you know that you have the back nine and that you know you have some birdie and eagle opportunities, and I was able to capitalize on those birdie opportunities.
Q. Can you talk about what it was like on the back nine -
PHIL MICKELSON: It was awesome.
Q. Not everything was perfect.
PHIL MICKELSON: (Laughter). It was so much fun. It was important to birdie 11 or 12, get 1 or 2 under before 13, but that eagle on 13 reminded me on Saturday in 2010 when I eagled to that pin position, also. It was a tough one to get to and I took, again, a little bit of risk to get it along the left side of that green. I've hit that putt so many times. I know that it breaks a lot at the hole. I know it's slow up that hill and gave it a little extra and still barely got it to the lip and it just fell in. When that putt went in, that was such a good feeling.
Q. When you know it's your day, do you feel it at some point on the back nine, that this is amazing?
PHIL MICKELSON: Like 2010 when I had a hot run on the back nine, it's still Saturday, and you're going to have to go play some really good golf and you're going to have to have some good things happen on Sunday. That's when it gets exciting. I just want to be in position. Because like I say, there's nothing more exciting than being in the final group on Sunday at the Masters because you have a chance, and that's what we all want is that opportunity. Sometimes it works out and that's great, and sometimes it doesn't, but you still had that opportunity, and that's what we play and practice for.
Q. Of all of the qualities that you need to win here, where does resilience rank?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's up there, because you're going to have some bad streaks throughout the course of 72 holes. But I think it comes down to, for me, feeling good with the putter. Because when you putt these greens well, you're going to have to make some putts to make birdies, because you're not going to knock everything a couple of feet. You're going to have to make some 20 , 30 footers. My putter feels really good.
Q. Can you talk about the eagle on 13, what did you have into the green, and then the putt itself looked like it took forever to get there, and sort of everybody was sort of waiting.
PHIL MICKELSON: Just fell in. Yeah, I had 208 to the hole and it was - 206 to the hole. I cut a 6 iron there. I felt like the ball was sitting down and the grain was sitting in, and it wasn't going to take off. Now normally a 6 iron could be too much, but I felt off that lie, it had come up a little short, and it did. It came up short. I was able to cut it just the right amount on the pin, and it went up on the left side and gave me a good look at it. The putt is a slow putt up that hill. But when it gets on top, it swings hard to the right, and fortunately, I knew that and hit it with the right pace, because I gave it a little bit extra than what I would originally have thought, and it still barely just got to the hole.
Q. Can you talk about one more shot, the second shot at 18?
PHIL MICKELSON: Steve, I hit a really good tee shot there into a bad spot. I hooked my 3 wood just perfectly around the corner, I thought, and I thought I was going to be around the edge of the fairway and it ended up being in the rough with a very tough shot and a tough lie. However, to that back right pin, I had the perfect shot because that's where the ball was going to want to end up if I hit that hook shot around the trees. So I didn't have to do anything special. I just shut the face of a 7 iron, I had 198 counting the uphill to that back right pin which is not a 7 iron obviously, but by shutting it and landing it on the front, it's only 168 to carry, and it's easily going to fly 75 or so, and so I didn't have to do anything special to it other than just hit the shot that was required and the ball was going to feed up on top.
Q. The first couple of rounds you talked about the conditions of the course, it skewed you a little bit of your preparation of what you expected it to be a little bit. Wondered if today it was playing a little bit more like it should, so to speak, and because of the time that you played, if it just had a familiar feel to it, when you played on the weekends here.
PHIL MICKELSON: The greens were a little bit a little bit slicker. But they were still soft and receptive. And so shots into 12, you know, are not nearly as fearless because the ball is hitting and backing up. That lob shot I had on 15 normally would be absolutely impossible, but because the green was receptive and the first bounce just killed it, it just trickled down the slope to about five feet. A lot of the shots around the greens were much easier due to the softness of the greens and it allowed me to play aggressively throughout the day.
Q. Following the lob on 15, what kind of gumption does it take to hit that, for most of us knuckleheads we will skull it in the water. (Laughter). Staring at that water, is there any point in your mind where you worry about -
PHIL MICKELSON: That wasn't really was going through my mind, no, Mark (laughter). That's an interesting perspective. No, I was more worried about going underneath it because the ground was fairly soft and because my 64 degree wedge does not have a lot of bounce. It was possible to slide underneath it, so I leveled out my weight a little bit so that I would not take too deep a divot and the ball popped up nicely.
Q. Peter Hanson was just in here saying how he was marveling what you were doing and getting energized by it. What could you see about what he was doing?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I'm sorry I was helping him out. Didn't look like he needed it. (Laughter). I played with him the first couple of days. He's a very nice give and very good player, I think we will have a lot of fun tomorrow playing together. I didn't feel as though he was helping me; I felt like, oh, my goodness, I've got to keep birdieing to keep pace. I think that I felt the need to birdie that 18th hole. I'm watching him hole putts on 15 from on the fringe, on 17; on 18 he knocks it a couple of feet. He just played phenomenally. It's very difficult to try to follow those kind of birdies when you're watching it right in front of you. And I was fortunate to get a couple there to stay within one.
Q. Your aggressive style and risk taking has got a lot of scrutiny over the years, and has not always worked out in other tournaments. But is that more suited to Augusta or familiarity with when to take the risk?
PHIL MICKELSON: A little bit of both. This golf course will reward aggressive play but you still have to play tactically smart and put the ball in the right spots. I mean, the front nine today a good example where I'm playing aggressive, but I'm still having to play 25 to 30 feet from the hole tactically to put the ball in the right spot to make a birdie or to make a putt, even though they did not quite go in. Same thing on the back nine. I mean, I played 13 exactly how I wanted to, but I still had to make a 40 footer. It's not like you're going to knock down that pin in that back left and knock it a few feet. It's just very rare to do that. So even though I'll take some risk and I'll try to make something happen, you still have to be patient and put the ball in the right spot and let the putter help you out.
Q. What kind of conditions do you want for Sunday?
PHIL MICKELSON: This was a really fun day, and it gave me - it gives me an opportunity to make something special happen tomorrow. As great and as fun a round as this was, it just makes it possible to have something really special tomorrow. I still have to go out tomorrow and do it. I still have to play some great golf on a tough golf course with some tough pin placements. But having that opportunity to be in the final group here at the Masters on Sunday, it's the greatest feeling in professional golf.
Q. Did you imagine you had a back nine like that coming?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think as I look back on this tournament I go back to Thursday because I felt like at some point I would get hot, kind of like the back nine today. But instead of being just enough to make the cut, I wanted it to be something where it could move me up the leaderboard, so I had to really fight on Thursday when I was letting the round slip away, 4 over through 10. Getting a couple of shots back on Thursday evening is what put me in a position to shoot a low round and move up the leaderboard, and I think I'll go back to Thursday and the way I fought hard those last eight holes to stay in it as being the critical eight holes to give me a chance on Sunday.
Q. Peter Hanson said that a one shot lead over you going into Sunday isn't that much of a lead. What have you seen from his play in the last couple days?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, he's playing great golf. I played with him the first two days. He's a really nice guy and a wonderful player, and I saw today firsthand from the group behind him just how good he can play because he was hitting shots right on the pin and he was making a lot of putts, and I had to make something happen just to hang close to him.
Q. When you look back on where you are right now, is it about the charge today or surviving on Thursday?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, it's Thursday, because at some point on this golf course I'm going to get hot and make some birdies and maybe an eagle here or there, but I've got to be in a position where it moves me up the leaderboard and not just gets me to the weekend. And the way I fought back on Thursday, keeping me in it, allowed me to make a run to shoot up the leaderboard.
Q. You had some great moments out there, the eagle putt at 13. Tell me about that.
PHIL MICKELSON: I've hit that putt so many times over the years and just knew that that ball was going to curl in sideways, and I knew it was slow up that hill, and the ball just crept over the lip. It was a great feeling to see that one go. That was a big momentum change right there.
Q. Your putting has been outstanding all year long.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's been so good, it's been the best I've had in my career probably, putting. I really worked hard in the off season and made a real commitment to what I was doing. All year it's been great, but this week on these greens where I know the breaks and they roll so true, it's been really good.
Q. Just quickly tell me about the wedge shot at 15.
PHIL MICKELSON: There was some risk in that one. I do not like missing long on that hole with that pin. It's just such a hard shot, and I got lucky because the pin placement was slightly forward than where it sometimes is. It sometimes is a yard or two further back, and I had a great lie, and that's where - that shot right there is where that 64 degree wedge has really helped me around this golf course, being able to slide it underneath on tight lies like that. The ball popped up nice and soft.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.