Mickelson Likes What He Sees at Augusta

March 20, 2008

The winds at Doral were blowing so hard on Wednesday even Tiger Woods cut his practice round at the CA Championship short, seeing more potential for harm than for good. The 18th was playing into a Blue Monster of a gale with many players hitting 3-woods into the green and some barely reaching the front edge. Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, spent his day jetting back and forth to Augusta National.

Mickelson and his caddie, Jim Mackay, left Miami at 6:30 a.m., stopped in St. Simons Island, Ga., to pick up Augusta member Fleming Norvell and then joined another member, Warren Stephens, for a casual round. They got a tour of the latest course changes, particularly the extension of the seventh green, courtesy of Masters Chairman Billy Payne and were back in Miami by 6 p.m.

"The course is in tremendous shape," Mickelson said of Augusta. "There's great coverage with the grass. It was windy up there too, not as bad as it was here. The point was to see the changes and just kind of get a visual because the ball chips and putts so different on those greens than anywhere else. Going into my off week next week (when he's scheduled a practice session in San Diego with Dave Pelz) I want to kind of have that mental picture of what I need to practice and how to do it."

While Augusta's 17th seemed like an even tighter driving hole than it had been and there was some minor softening of the ledges on the ninth green, the biggest change was the room added to the back of the seventh green. "It changes the hole because now long is OK," says Mickelson. "You can go over the green and get up and down possibly. Whereas before that wasn't really realistic."

On Thursday, Mickelson got off to a five-under-par 67 at Doral that included a double-bogey on the third hole when he hit 3-wood off the tee into a horrendous lie and his 9-iron from the rough shot right, hit the bank short and ended up in the water. By Mackey's reckoning, Mickelson hit 17 greens in the opening round but, coming off his putting performance last week at Bay Hill when he averaged over 30 putts per round, making a few birdies was crucial.

"It was important to get a few to go in," Mickelson said. "It meant a lot coming in to make those four birdies because I had to make putts on all of them. The shortest one was five or six feet. I have a lot of confidence on these greens. It's the same grass as TPC Sawgrass and they just putt and track so nice." While Mickelson's ball-striking has, for the most part, been superb this season, his putting has faltered. In a stark contrast with Woods, who ranks 14th in putting between 15 and 25 feet, Mickelson is 164th from that distance. Overall, they rank first and 39th, respectively, in putting. "It's coming," Mickelson says. "I just have to get it all together, the whole thing together."

Maybe the most visible change Mickelson has made is to his physique. He appears trim and in shape. "It's kind of a mixture of a lot of things," he says of his workout routine. "StairMaster is kind of my cardio thing. Overall I'm trying to build up strength. I'm not trying to lose weight as much as I'm trying to get physically stronger and quicker through the golf ball to accommodate some of the changes, the shorter backswing, that I've been implementing in my game. I don't want to lose distance."

--Jim Moriarty