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May 8, 2018

Phil Mickelson

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

JOHN BUSH: We'd like to welcome Phil Mickelson into the interview room. Phil is our 2007 champion at THE PLAYERS. The first time this tournament was held in May. Phil, I know you'd like to make bookend appearances here in the last one held in May.

PHIL MICKELSON: I love this tournament. I'm excited to be back. It's a real challenge for me. I look at this course, I just can't believe I've actually won here. It's a really difficult course that's punishing. It's been fun to be a part of the past champions here, because it really takes some special golf to win out here.

Moving back to March I think is going to be a great thing for the tournament. I think that it was great to move it to May. I don't think it really matters when the event is played. We're going to get the best players in the world playing, and I think that's all that matters.

JOHN BUSH: Speaking of winning, you won the World Golf Championship earlier this year, comment on the state of your game and your season up to this point.

PHIL MICKELSON: One of the coolest things that happened after I won México is I got a note from President Bush 43, and he said, 43 has a great ring to it, which is my 43rd victory. I just thought that was one of the coolest things that came from that and one of the most memorable.

Q. I know we talked to you on Sunday about the pairing, the grouping with Tiger and Rickie. How much different is it playing with Tiger when you know you're going to play with him, and by any chance did you prepare any differently to get ready for Thursday?
PHIL MICKELSON: So I love that we're paired together. I think it's really fun. We haven't been paired together in years, and as I look at the cover of the newspaper and the pairing is on there and the excitement that's been going on around here, it gets me thinking, why don't we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stake, winner take all match. Now, I don't know if he wants a piece of me (laughter), but I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do, and I think there would be a lot of interest in it if we just went straight to the final round.

Q. I know you said it doesn't matter to you if it's played in May or March; do you have a preference, though, on which way you like this golf course better?
PHIL MICKELSON: I really don't. I would say if I did have to pick, I would probably pick March where it's overseeded and a little softer, for the reason that the greens are not really designed for run-up shots, at least 17 isn't. There's a lot of holes like that where we've got to fly it on and stop it. I think the way it played in March, I kind of preferred over the firm, fast. I don't think when it was designed, it was designed to be firm, fast the way it has played the last few years.

Q. At Wells Fargo you mentioned some concern about your energy levels for this week. Were you able to do kind of not much yesterday, and do you plan on laying low today and tomorrow?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's exactly what I did. I took the day off, and then I've altered my practice in preparation for big events like this now to only playing nine holes a day so that I don't get overly tired. It's all about for me being ready and fresh and sharp on Thursdays. One of the great things that's happened this year is I've found little tricks to get more consistency in my play and a little bit more consistent mental focus throughout the rounds. Unfortunately the first two rounds at Wells Fargo, I wasn't very sharp. But it's starting to come around again.

Q. Even though the grass changes a little bit and the wind changes a little bit going back to March, has the same thing held true March to May in that no one style, no one type of player is going to have an advantage on this course? Does that change going back to March?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that the golf course itself doesn't favor any one particular player, like you say, in that there are holes it does favor longer players, and there are holes that it doesn't, where short and straight is the key.

I think that we have such a great mixture of champions on this golf course and a variety of styles of play that I don't think it will matter how the preparation is. It's just the beauty of the design and the setup and the overall architecture.

Q. Given Rory's comments last week, how do you rate the majors? Or rank them?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think they're important. (Laughter.)

Q. But do you see one being a notch above the rest?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the one that has eluded you is the one that you look at more importantly, but when I was a kid and thought if there was only one I could win, the reason you choose the Masters every time is because you become a part of that history and get to be a part of it every year, whereas the other majors you go back to that course every five or ten years and you don't get to really relive the experience the experience the way you do at the Masters.

Q. And just to follow up, does THE PLAYERS come into the major conversation for you?
PHIL MICKELSON: It certainly is up there for me, given the strength of the field and the quality of the event. I think it's one of these events where, over time, it may very well become or be looked at as a major championship, much like the Western Open used to be considered a major. It kind of fell away. I think that this may have the opposite effect. You kind of look back on it and 50 years from now view it as a major.

Q. Since you talked about the grouping, have you had any communication with Rickie and Tiger since?
PHIL MICKELSON: I saw Rickie last night, and we talked about it. I ran into Tiger Sunday after we had heard about it, and I think we're all -- we're all excited about it. We wish it would happen more. Again, it's been four years since we've been paired last on Thursday-Friday, and I don't think we should wait for the governing bodies to put us together. I think we should just do something on our own and get after it.

Q. Keeping that theme going, how do you view the pairing, playing with Tiger now versus say 10 or 15 years ago, just from a sort of all-around standpoint or relationship standpoint, that sort of thing?
PHIL MICKELSON: We've always had a mutual respect over the years, and I've always appreciated what he's done for the game of golf. 15 years ago my record against him sucked, and now it's okay. I'm doing better as time has gone on.

Q. Staying on that theme, is there any part -- it seems like you get energized to play when you're paired with him. You seem to be a bit more energized. You talked last week worrying about your energy level. Can that be an advantage to you a little bit the first two days do you think?
PHIL MICKELSON: Possibly, but -- yeah, very possibly. I don't know how it's going to play out, but I just know that we seem to be bringing out the best in each other. We've been playing some really good golf lately, and I'm hoping that we have a great week. I think that everybody here wants to see us play well. I think we are playing well. It's a good golf course for us to showcase that, and I would love for us to continue this all the way into the weekend, as well.

Q. On a normal day, how many times do you hit driver on this golf course? Also, do you think it is a better test of golf the more often you hit driver on a golf course? Not you personally but just in general.
PHIL MICKELSON: I think when the tournament was in March, there were more drivers than in May because the fairways were softer, and it seems that about 300 to 350, there's a lot of holes where you don't want to hit it much past that. A lot of times now it might be a 3-wood. I probably hit driver half the time. I probably could hit driver every hole if you wanted to. It doesn't take driver out of the hands where you don't have options. You have options. I will probably hit it about five to seven times I would guess and favor a 3-wood and a driving iron that -- kind of a long 3-iron that I have -- most of the time.

Q. How long do you think you'll continue to compete, and what do you think will be the reason that you feel it's time to stop?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think it's in the near future, and I think that as long -- the thing that I use to judge that is my motivation. So as I've gotten older, I've had to work harder to be able to maintain the physical ability to go practice as hard as I want to and recover and so forth. So I've had to make more sacrifices than I did 15 years ago.

However, my body feels as good or better than it did back then, and I'm able to swing the club as well or better than I did. In fact, there's some areas statistically I've improved quite a bit from when I was in my 30s playing my best. I don't think that time is anywhere in the near future. In fact, I'm starting to play about as well as I did at my best.

I'm looking forward to and honestly believe that the next couple years are going to be some of my best.

Q. You talked about 50 in Mexico. If there was ever a time where you felt like you played your best and it wasn't enough, would that --
PHIL MICKELSON: It was only once, and that was the British Open when I lost to Stenson.

Q. The only time you played with Tiger here, he was in the midst of winning four straight majors. He won the Masters a few weeks later. Just curious what you recall about that time and how difficult it was to go up against him, whether you were grouped with him or not, the challenge, if it was demoralizing or motivating or a combination.
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think anybody today who wasn't there that witnessed it, and I don't think anybody before, will ever see that level of play again. It was the most remarkable golf in the history of the game, and I think unrepeatable. I think it was that good. Going back to, I look at 2000 as being kind of the benchmark at the U.S. Open as being the greatest golf I've ever witnessed and I believe ever has been played. And it sucked to have to play against him. It really did. You look at it, and you say, how are you going -- how am I going to beat this. You know, there was a stretch there of a number of years that it was so impressive that it was hard to imagine that it was actually happening, that he was hitting some of the shots that he was hitting and playing that well.

The guys today look back, and they say, come on, how much better could he have been and so forth, and it just goes to show you that they weren't there to witness it.

Q. At your level, how often do you walk off the golf course thinking that you couldn't have shot a better round?
PHIL MICKELSON: Very rarely. You always feel like you left a couple shots out there. You know, and you don't count the 50-foot putts that you made as being a bonus. You kind of think that, yeah, that should have happened. Very rarely do you not think you couldn't have saved a shot here or there.

Q. For a Latin American audience, walk us through a little bit of that 17th hole in Mexico with Justin Thomas and the meaning of that victory for you.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it was a very special win because it had been so long since I had won, and very meaningful that it was a World Golf Championship and it was in a great city like Mexico City that doesn't always have championship golf to be able to perform in front of those crowds that were exceptional was great. But I view that as a sign that my game is getting better and better, and I think there are more wins that are going to come here shortly, and I think that that wasn't just the peak, I think it was a nice step along the way that my game has come back and that the work that I've put in with Andrew Getson and the work that I've put in with Callaway to get everything right has been paying off. I think the rest of this year is going to be as good or better.

Q. And a little bit of the feeling that you were at that 17th hole when you started that playoff hole.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I was nervous, and I've seen firsthand the great play of Justin Thomas over the last couple years and been partners with him at the Presidents Cup last year, and he's one of my favorite people to be around. He's just an incredible person. You don't find somebody that successful who is that genuinely nice with everybody. It's just remarkable, and at such a young age. He's an impressive person, and it was hard to play against him head-to-head, especially knowing how good he's been playing. I mean, the guy holes it on the last hole, right, on the 72nd hole for eagle to get there. He's just incredible.

But I was very excited to have been able to come out on top.

Q. When you're playing tournament championship golf, how conscious are you of your role as an entertainer, not just for the television audience that's watching, the right exposure for Callaway, Workday, KPMG, and to provide great experiences for the people that are there? I'm not suggesting you hit the ball in trouble on purpose, but when you're hitting recovery shots, when you're doing things like the 72nd hole last week, do you know what I mean? Are you just --
PHIL MICKELSON: I do. Unfortunately I know exactly what you mean, yeah.

Q. Shooting the lowest score and we'll see.
PHIL MICKELSON: So I'm not cognizant of it when it's happening I'll say, but I look back at it, and the thing is that what allowed me to play my best growing up, what made me so excited about the game was trying different shots, challenging myself, being creative, hitting different shots, going back as a kid trying to back the back up as much as I could, trying to get it to go 100 feet and spin it back, trying to carve it around trees and side-spin it towards the hole and do things like that and skip them off water and see how many times you can get it to skip or glide across the water like a putt. All these things were fun, challenging shots that kept me interested in the game, that brought out my best, and when I am out playing, some people play their best when they get into their own little world and block everything out, and I don't play my best that way. I play my best when I interact with people, and it keeps it fun, keeps me relaxed and helps me play my best.

So that is why I smile a lot and why I talk a lot and try different shots is because I feel like that gets my best out of me, and that's how I play my best.

Q. You've talked about motivation; how do you think Tiger gets motivated when, as you said, he's probably already -- probably never going to play better than he already did earlier in his career?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think he believes it and I don't think I believe it. I think once you've touched that level of greatness, I think it's much easier to get it back than it is to find it for the first time because you know what it feels like, you know what it takes to get there, you know how to do it. And I think that we love to be challenged, and I think this is a great challenge for him to get back to that level. Just like I love to be challenged and play against and compete against the best players in the world, it's what motivates us and inspires us, and so I don't think either he or I believe that he couldn't get that back.

Q. What, if anything, do you like about the 17th hole, either the hole itself or just the scene that's out there?
PHIL MICKELSON: I like how it's unique and that it's not duplicated. It's one of a kind. I like that it just -- the way it stands out. I like where it's located in the tournament, how it can be such a huge factor, how the tournament is never over because you can always have a three- or four-shot swing the last couple of holes. I just think that the way the last three holes are, you are never out of the tournament. We've seen wild swings those last three holes, and the 17th is a huge part of that.

Q. Knowing Jim Furyk as long as you have, and we're still a few months out, but what do you think his strengths will be as a Ryder Cup captain, and how do you think he will be different from Davis in his style?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think Jim is just awesome. I think he's one of my favorite people, and he's kind of a quiet leader where people follow his lead, but he doesn't necessarily say a ton. He's a perfect mix between Steve Stricker and Davis Love. He's not as vocal, but he still says enough to inspire you, and he's been around these teams so much and knows what brings out the best in each individual that's on the team. He just has a great way to identify that. He knows what to say, and it's never the same thing to two people. He knows how to get the best out of each person.

Q. Because you've experienced greatness yourself and seen it in this game, do you watch other sports the same way we do? I'm thinking LeBron James right now --
PHIL MICKELSON: And appreciate that --

Q. Do you appreciate it more?
PHIL MICKELSON: See, I appreciate the level of commitment that it takes to get there because we see the great performance there in the end, and what I look at is the off-course work that goes into having that. So whether it's -- every second of every day is dedicated to eating the right thing and focusing on the right thing and visualizing the right thing and playing with your teammates and working with your teammates and partnering -- the hours and hours and hours that goes into every single day to achieve that greatness, that's what I look on and appreciate when I see a performance like that.

JOHN BUSH: Phil Mickelson, thank you, sir.

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