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February 19, 2009

Phil Mickelson


JOHN BUSH: We would like to welcome the defending champion of the Northern Trust Open, Phil Mickelson, into the interview room. Phil, a 63 today, bogey-free round today, and just a continuation of last year. If we can just get your comments on the opening day.
PHIL MICKELSON: It was a good start, and I feel like I'm back on the right track. At least my misses were much better. I felt much better with the putter, and my short game was as good as it's been. I hit a lot of good shots around the greens to save strokes. I think I missed six greens and ended up playing those holes 1-under, so that was a good area for me to keep the round going when I did miss-hit a shot.
JOHN BUSH: This is a golf course that you love here at Riviera; what does that do in terms of getting you excited about playing in a place you're obviously so comfortable in?
PHIL MICKELSON: It certainly helps, and having won here last year and played well the year before, I have a lot of confidence coming onto this golf course. I'm glad the last three days I was able to get some good work done and get back on track I think.

Q. I have a couple of questions. I wonder if you can talk about 10, for example, how you're playing, and just the shot you hit, and then a follow to that.
PHIL MICKELSON: 10, I hit a drive this morning and it was a little too much club. I went over the green about 20 yards, 25 yards. It was a very difficult shot there. With only two yards of green to work with, I hit a lob shot out of the rough to about six feet. It was one of the better shots I've hit, this year, actually, and ended up making the putt for birdie.

Q. Secondly, Kostis said that you've tinkered a lot of equipment the first three weeks of the year. I just wanted to get a sense of how much switching has gone on, if any.
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I'm very pleased with the driver I've used. I'm driving it much better and longer, especially today.
I was trying a little bit different shafts with some of my irons and wasn't quite matching up the way I would like, so I just went back to my set from last year and tried to eliminate any variables. I don't think it was the shaft, though, given my swing. I was hitting my old clubs poorly, too. I just had to eliminate some variables because I wasn't playing the way I wanted to.

Q. Back on No. 10, where are you trying to hit it off the tee? What is your actual strategy there from the tee?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I've played that hole very effectively the last couple of years, and have played it under par and bettered the field average and I would rather not say what I'm trying to do there. (Laughter).

Q. You birdied the last hole at Pebble on Saturday, to effect, make the cut.
PHIL MICKELSON: And keep me over an extra day. That was brilliant of my part, wasn't it. (Smiling).

Q. Did that sort of like -- you were struggling a little bit there. Did that encourage you that, hey, at least when you needed the birdie, you got it; and I wonder if there's any carry over at all?
PHIL MICKELSON: There was. I stood over the 18th hole knowing I need the birdie to make the cut, and I hit it down the waterline and drew it in play, and then I hit 5-iron out over the water, as well, and it rode the wind about six feet. So hitting those two shots certainly helped.
Also, I spent some time -- you know, when you don't play well, you're not going to rest until you get back on track. I talked to Butch. I spent time with Pelz. I feel like I'm at least back on track.
Today's score, it was obviously a good round, but I didn't feel that I played immaculate. I still feel as though it's coming. The reason why the score was so low is I ended up making some putts, I holed a chip and got up-and-down on every green that I missed, which is very helpful.
But I at least feel like I'm on the right track.

Q. Can I also ask you, this course is very historic, and Hogan won here and everything; why do you like this course, and why do you play well here?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think growing up in southern California, I have a bit of an advantage putting on poa annua greens as a kid, and playing kikuyu grass as a kid; I think it helps knowing how the ball is going to react out of there. It is a very difficult grass. I think I gives me an advantage.
Riviera is just a great test and small greens and requires great ball-striking, and also requires a great short game, because you are going to miss a lot of greens. As small as they are and as rounded as the edges are on some places where balls will be propelled off the green, you have to chip it and putt it close. I think that's why I've also played well here.

Q. You hit 4-iron on 4?

Q. Is that a pin that you're aiming at and trying to make birdie, is that one of the few spots maybe on that green?

Q. You were?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I'll take par on 4 every day. (Laughter).
The pin happened to be where the ball will funnel, that back left spot, it will just funnel there, and I obviously got lucky to hit it a foot or two.
On that hole, I'm trying to hit the green and just have a putt at it. It's not as though I'm not thinking two. It's just that the likelihood isn't great. And I'm not trying to stack it like the ball ended up. It just happened to get close. I'm trying to just get it within 15, 30 feet and see if I can make a putt.

Q. What time did you leave home this morning, and will you be back to pick the kids up in time?
PHIL MICKELSON: (Looking at watch) yeah, I'll be back before they are out of school. I left at 5:30 this morning. Left the house at 5:00 and airport at 5:00. It's very easy, it's a half-hour commute, and we haven't had any problems.

Q. How long does it take you to get from Santa Monica airport to here?
PHIL MICKELSON: 12, 15 minutes maybe. Yeah, it's a very short drive.

Q. Wanted to see if you can go through the rest of your birdies really quick.
PHIL MICKELSON: Started on 10, we talked about 10. I birdied 13. I hit a driver just in the left rough there and an 8-iron to 20 feet and made the putt.
On 16, I hit a 9-iron to eight feet and made the putt.
Then 17, I hit a good drive, couldn't quite get there, so I hit 3-iron as a lay up, had 60 yards. It spun back off the front edge and I chipped it in.

Q. How far off the green?
PHIL MICKELSON: It was a yard or two off the front edge, so it was a very short shot.
I birdied 1. I hit 3-wood off the tee, a 4-iron over the green, but I was on the fringe and I just putted down to a foot.
I birdied 3. I hit a good drive there. Only had 115 yards and hit a sand wedge to a foot or two and made that.
Then I hit that 4-iron on 4 to a foot or two.
Then I birdied 7. I hit 3-wood off the tee and a pitching wedge to five feet and made it.

Q. On 10, what wedge was that behind the green?
PHIL MICKELSON: That was the 60. It wasn't the 64. It was a 60.

Q. As well as you play on the West Coast Swing, was there some exasperation, some sense of urgency when you talked to Butch, when you talked to Pelz, about getting back better than you have so far?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, not really. We've only played three events. It's early in the year. It's still the middle of the February. It's going to be a long year and the majors have not even started yet.
My feeling is I want to be on the right track heading into Augusta. I want to have some good tournaments heading into Augusta and I want to have some momentum. It's important that I get the direction down, whether it's chipping, which has been feeling very good, whether it's putting, whether it's driving the golf ball, iron play. All of those areas I want to have on the right track heading into Augusta.
So even though we are still two months out, that's kind of been on my mind.

Q. What are you doing in Florida?
PHIL MICKELSON: Right now I'm only scheduled to play Doral in Florida. But, if I don't have a good week here next week, I'll most likely add one.

Q. Do you know which one?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't, no. I'll be playing Houston and the Masters, so I'm not sure which one will fit best.

Q. When you got rolling on the back nine, were you thinking, hey, it's finally coming along? Were you thinking -- I remember at Poppy you were a couple under and you were really going and you lost it. I just wonder are you on that edge, where you say, okay, here we go, or is it going to go backwards?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, when I played in Phoenix and had penalty strokes, they were all to the right; I hooked it.
When I was at Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills, I hit it out-of-bounds, all to the right, hooked it.
So in an effort to -- I can't play the game with a hook. You've seen me win tournaments flailing it left. I can do that all day long and the misses are never going to be as great as a snap-hook. So that block-left has to be my miss, if I'm going to play well. And it's evident the first three weeks that I just can't play missing it to the right.
So my point is that when I got to the back side, I didn't I didn't feel as though my miss was going ever to be to the right and ever be a big miss. And because of that, I didn't feel as though I was going to have a big number; whereas, the last couple of weeks, I certainly felt as though that big number was there, any time that it happened to go right, for me, which is a hook.

Q. Tentative, in other words you were hitting some good shots, were you thinking, like the rest of us think, when is he going to fall apart or when am I going to hook it?
PHIL MICKELSON: No. It's just that if that miss right comes up, and I'm trying to take the right side out of play, and I miss it right, I'm going to make a big number, because I'm trying to eliminate the worst trouble.
At Pebble Beach, the worst trouble was right, every hole. At Poppy Hills, the worst trouble was right on a lot of holes, except 18, but every other hole is on the ocean. So again, my point is that I've got to be able to hit the ball either straight or left, and I would prefer straight, obviously, but I can't hook it and play the game. I have to miss left.
You know, yes, it cost me the U.S. Open in '06, but, it wasn't really the drive as much as it was the 3-iron in the trees. If I could have gotten up by the green, I could have got up-and-down.
When I blew it left at Colonial last year, I still was able to make a shot. If I hooked it at Colonial, I'd be in that creek. I have to be able to stand on the tee and take the right side out of play. Today I felt confident in my ability to do that, so I didn't feel as though there was a big number.

Q. Curious, where is the miss on 10, with the hole location today?
PHIL MICKELSON: Today, it was -- I don't want to say it was an easy hole location. It was one of the easier hole locations there because the front bunker was fine. It was far enough on the back end where you could be on the front bunker and have an uphill lie and get it close.
The front bunker often times is a terrible place, and so today I thought it was playing a little bit easier because of that, but obviously it's not like there's a miss, but you want to be -- you want to be green-high.

Q. You missed the bunker by 40 yards.
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, but it was cold and I didn't think I could get 3-wood over that left bunker. You can't go in there, either.
That's a great strategy hole, which is why I don't really want to go there too much.

Q. They added a bunch of mounds over there where you have been hitting the last few years; did you notice that, and does that change your thinking at all on the strategy?
PHIL MICKELSON: It doesn't change my thinking, no. It certainly is an area that a lot of guys try to hit it and will make that chip shot much more challenging, but the angle is what's important, not necessarily the lie.
JOHN BUSH: Phil, thank you for coming by. Keep it going.

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