AUGUSTA, Ga.--Whether it was his victory last week in Houston, or the fact that he has won the Masters three of the past seven years, Phil Mickelson seemed to be completely at ease Tuesday as he made his first appearance this week on the grounds at Augusta National GC.
Never mind that the overnight thunderstorm forced him to change his practice schedule, pushing back his lone 18-hole pre-tournament trip around the course until Wednesday. Or that prior to last week he had finished inside the top five only once in seven PGA Tour starts in 2011. Upon reaching the club's hallowed grounds, everything feels right with the world for Mickelson.
"When I drive down Magnolia Lane, I get reenergized with the game of golf," Mickelson said. "You know I've played since I was a year and a half. I'm 40, so 38Â¿ years I'm playing this game. I love it and have such a passion for this game, but when I come here it reminds me of that."
Seven years removed from trudging into the media center before a major championship and being asked why he hadn't broken through yet, the 40-year-old was funny and deferential in assessing his chances on the eve of his 19th Masters appearance. Asked if he liked being in the second to last pairing during Thursday's first round, he beemed that indeed he was, noting that late in the day it seems the wind often dies down. Then with a chuckle, he added: "And I would love nothing more than to have the last tee time every day."
Of course that would mean he was in contention for a fourth victory.
Mickelson provided some insight into what we should expect to see from him this week. He intends to play again with two drivers in his bag, expecting that warmer temperatures forecasted for the week will allow him to forgo carrying a hybrid or 3-iron.
"This week is the one week where I swing the absolute hardest," Mickelson said. "I mean I've been working out for it. I saw a back specialist last night and continue to see [him] just to make sure that my back hangs in there."
He was asked if during his two visits to the course prior to this week whether he had returned to the spot on the 13th hole where he hit the impressive 6-iron shot from behind a tree on to the green setting up a pivotal birdie.
"No," he said with a wry smile. "I didn't see the point. I've already done that."
In reflecting on that shot from a year ago, however, Mickelson offered perhaps the best glimpse at the mindset that has helped him become a perennial favorite here.
"There's a point in every tournament where you have to take on some risk," he said. "You can't expect that other players are going to give it to you."
-- Ryan Herrington
(Photo Getty Images)