AUGUSTA, Ga. — For one day at least, figuring out Phil Mickelson’s lifetime scoring average in the Masters isn’t going to be too difficult. Over the course of his 100th competitive round at Augusta National—53 of which have been under par—the three-time champion added 73 strokes to his opening 67 and took his mean score to 71.27.
In other words—and for those truly challenged arithmetically—since he made his Masters debut as an amateur back in 1991, Mickelson has 7,127 strokes to his name. He has not, of course, actually struck the ball that many times. Forever loyal to his inherently risk-taking character both on and off the course, Phil’s ever-aggressive and sometimes-reckless style of play makes it safe to assume more than a few penalty drops and visits to Rae’s Creek are also in the mix.
In that impetuous respect, Mickelson has never changed. The middle-aged father of three is, temperamentally at least, fundamentally the same “can’t-miss” kid who emerged from Arizona State having already a PGA Tour winner. Warming up before a tournament round just a few years ago—and employing the easy, controlled swing he typically produces when hitting 6-irons—the five-time major champion was “killing” the ball with his driver.
“It was beautiful to watch,” says his former coach, Butch Harmon.
At the end of the session and as his then charge left to tee-up alongside the long-hitting Dustin Johnson, Harmon told Mickelson not to get involved in a long-driving contest with his playing partner. “Keep using that same swing,” he said.
“Aw Butch,” came the reply. “I think we both know that isn’t going to happen.”
“I also tend to be aggressive in investments,” acknowledges Mickelson. “And I like to play hard. When [wife] Amy and I go on trips or spend time with the kids, we do just that. We love to go skiing. We have been white-water rafting in Montana. I’ve tried archery and trap shooting. I’ve done a bungee-jump. But I think I’ll leave sky diving until my kids are out of college. So yes, I’d say my approach to life pretty closely mirrors my attitude on the course. I enjoy life and I love new challenges.”
Speaking of which, sitting at four-under 140 after 36-holes, the 48-year-old’s mission to become the oldest-ever major champion remains viable. Albeit the late bogey, his fourth of the day, made on the penultimate hole did nothing to aid his prospects. Should, weather permitting, Mickelson add a fourth green jacket to his wardrobe come Sunday evening, he will replace Julius Boros as the most elderly winner of a Grand Slam title. Boros was 48 years and 140 days old when he finished first at the 1968 PGA Championship; a Mickelson victory would “beat” that by 162 days.
He thinks he can do it too, even if he pleaded ignorance.
“I haven't thought of it [being the oldest], but I do think I've got another major in me,” he said. “At least one, maybe two. So I would love to get one right here.”
Easier said than done. Those who will enter the weekend with better aggregates include a fair sprinkling of recent major champions who have proven they know how to get the job done at the highest level.
“I’m aware that my time of life has been awkward for many players,” Mickelson says. “It is hard to stay competitive at the highest level in your late-40s. But it hasn’t been a problem for me. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m motivated. And my swing is a long, leverage-based swing. I use a big long wide arc to create clubhead speed and distance. It’s a cliché to say long swingers have long careers and short swingers have short careers, but it’s true.”
As for his performance in round 100—“that just tells me I’m getting old”—and Day 2 of his 27th Masters appearance, Mickelson was understandably a little downbeat. An over-par round was clearly not quite what he had in mind setting out, with his wayward driving (hardly a first) getting most of the blame for a position on the leaderboard he described as “a little disappointing.”
“I didn’t drive the ball very well today,” he said. “That was the key. If I hit it reasonably straight, I can attack a lot of holes. But I hit some poor ones. I just have to drive it a little bit better. Usually the harder I swing the straighter it will go. Today that wasn't the case. I did hit some good drives, but the ones I missed were on critical holes, the birdie holes like the 15th. But if I drive like I did yesterday I'm going to have a good weekend.”
He’ll need one. Maybe even a great one.