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The Masters: Lefty plays it cool

The Signal's Vince Johnson reports from Augusta National

Posted: April 3, 2012 5:49 p.m.
Updated: April 3, 2012 5:49 p.m.
Phil Mickelson checks his notebook on the first green during a practice round for the Masters on Tuesday in Augusta, Ga. Phil Mickelson checks his notebook on the first green during a practice round for the Masters on Tuesday in Augusta, Ga.
Phil Mickelson checks his notebook on the first green during a practice round for the Masters on Tuesday in Augusta, Ga.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson has seen the headlines, but “Tiger vs. Rory,” he contends with a wry smile, doesn’t bother him.

“I’m cool with it,” says the three-time Masters champion on the Tuesday before the tournament’s 76th installment.
Without saying anything more, Phil Mickelson says everything. His competitive fire has been lit.

See, Mickelson is the anti-Tiger. Instead of meticulously twisting every question into an “I’m really looking forward to this week at this course” response, Mickelson is, normally, jovially forthcoming.

“The family’s doing great,” he says. “After this weekend, we’re all going to the Bahamas for a week.”

With the Masters’ pressure long-lifted from his shoulders after his first green jacket in 2004, he holds little back.

“The green 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 this week. Unless something changes, and I know they have SubAir (green drying system) and hopefully they will be able to use it, but unless something changes, it’s going to be a birdie-fest.”
He’s even willing to openly praise his chief rival, the man who will almost surely relegate his career to “the second-greatest golfer of his generation.”

“I think (Woods) is going to have a great wee because he’s obviously been playing well, and to have won heading in I think gives him a lot of confidence,” Lefty says.

Mickelson shrugs.

“It sucks for us, but…”

The room of reporters erupts in laughter. As he does often, he’s putting on a show, and everyone’s glad to be a spectator.
So when Mickelson stops short on an answer, it leaves a lasting impact. “Tiger vs. Rory” is not the way he envisions Sunday afternoon.

If Mickelson wins this week, his fourth green jacket will match the totals of Arnold Palmer and, ahem, Tiger Woods. When asked, he admits it will mean “a lot.” When asked to expound, the sly grin reappears.

“It … will … mean … an … awful … lot.” That question is flushed with a smile.

Now entering his 20th Masters tournament, the 41-year-old newly elected member of golf’s Hall of Fame isn’t taking time to reflect.

“I’m still in the stage where I’m looking forward to my career, looking ahead to other opportunities and other tournaments,” Mickelson contends.

Only two years removed from his most recent Masters win in 2010, the one-time “best player to never win a major” has some advice for the players of today with that moniker – guys like Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, and Adam Scott.

“I would probably say (to them) the same thing (coach) Dave Pelz said to me in the offseason of 2003 as we were heading into the 2004 season,” Mickelson pauses.  “And I’m going to wait to share that until my career is over. Seriously.”

This is his favorite week of the year. He’s the underdog. It’s no time for sharing secrets.

Vince Johnson is in his fourth year covering The Masters for Morris Multimedia. He is The Signal’s chief multimedia officer and will be writing a daily column from Augusta National Golf Club. You can follow his week on Twitter @vincejohnson.


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