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April 5, 2011

Phil Mickelson


RONALD TOWNSEND: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The gentleman to my left does not need any introduction. He's a three-time winner and last year's winner of the Masters. It's his 19th Masters and Phil has been in the top 10 in 13 of 19 Masters.
Following your spectacular performance last week in Houston, would you share your thoughts on your preparations this week.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's certainly my favorite week of the year, and my schedule has changed a little bit given the weather conditions and so forth, so I'll end up playing a practice round tomorrow instead of today and try to play in conditions similar to what we'll see this weekend. But it should be a beautiful weekend and we should have some great golf.

Q. How much did winning in Houston really give you a boost going into this?
PHIL MICKELSON: It was a very -- well, it was a fun win, obviously. I played very well and it was a big confidence booster I would say, because I felt like that golf was in me this year, but I haven't been getting it out. I haven't had the same type of mental focus throughout the round that I expect. And I was able to do it very effectively on the weekend.
So to be able to have that type of performance heading into here feels very good. Reminds me a lot of 2006 when I was able to put it together the week before and carry the momentum through.

Q. What is the dynamic of carrying momentum from one tournament to another like in 2006? Is it carrying feelings into the next week?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it is. Being able to see the shot and execute and hit the shot that you're wanting to, and having control over trajectory and distance control and having just a good feel with your swing, as well as short game.

Q. What clicked over the weekend? Is there anything in particular? I don't know if you mentioned it in Houston?
PHIL MICKELSON: I just was able to kind of see the shot a little bit better and held that picture in my mind throughout the swing and pull it off.

Q. Talk about how large, enthusiastic crowds energize you, especially here. And if you were a fan, which one of the younger players would you make it a point to watch in a tournament like this?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the fans here are some of the best that we have in any sport. They are very supportive and appreciative. Over the years, I've heard some of the loudest roars and felt the vibrations in the ground; the first year I played here in '91, Nicklaus and Watson were playing together and they were on the 16th green and I was on the 18th when Watson holed it from down below to the front right pin, and it was shocking how loud the roar was.
And when Nicklaus holed it on top of him, I could feel the ground vibrate at my feet. It was just an amazing feeling to experience that, and the people here, the crowds, they are just terrific.
And then you had a second part?

Q. Which one of the younger players, if you were just a golf fan coming here, which one of the younger guys today that are emerging would you make it a point to watch?
PHIL MICKELSON: Depends how young you want to go. If you want to go to the young 20s, I think Ryo Ishikawa and Rory McIlroy are some of the best players, and if you go mid-20s, I think Dustin Johnson is one of the most impressive to watch, as well as Hunter Mahan, the way they strike the golf ball.
But there are a lot of guys that have a lot of game and are exciting to watch and pull for.

Q. Do you have to be a big hitter to win here or is it nearly just an advantage?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, you don't have to be a big hitter to win here. You have to play away from your weaknesses to your strengths, and so if you're not the longest hitter, you've got to play to your strengths, which needs to be wedge play and take advantage of the par 5s; and miss the par 4s in spots where your short game, that you can take advantage of. If your short game isn't sharp, you really need to strike it exceptionally well. I don't know if it's really possible because the penalty for a slight miss-hit is in an area where you have to be on your short game. So anybody, whether you are long or short, if you're on your short game, you have a good chance.

Q. Players are talking about you like they talk about Tiger and this course and I think the odds-makers finally saw that, as well, and I believe you're the favorite going into this week. Do you feel like you've sort of taken over that role as the ordained favorite here?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I mean, I certainly enjoy this place and have enjoyed it and have felt great on this golf course even before I won here. I felt like it was a course I could play well on, and really enjoy playing it every year. It's something that I've just come to love with all my heart and appreciate how great this place is, how special this place is to the game of golf.
I feel very fortunate, as well as -- well, it just means a lot to me to have won here and to be able to come back and be a part of this tournament.

Q. Just checking in, any changes to the bag or any special tricks up your sleeve this week? You've been known to pull a few around this place.
PHIL MICKELSON: Nothing that really stands out. Other than I am going to have two drivers this week. Because it's going to be warm, I won't need a 3-iron or a hybrid, so the longest iron I'll have is a 4-iron. But really, into the par 5s, I won't need anything less than -- more than a 4-iron, on the par 3s.
If it's cold, I'll need a 3-iron like on hole 4 but the forecast is to be pretty hot so I'll put in a second driver that will allow me to carry the bunkers on 2 and 8.
They both draw and fade the same. That's not the purpose of it. I have an inch longer shaft and different loft. It just goes about 15, 20 yards farther.

Q. Can you describe the thought process at 13 last year, the discussion between you and Bones? And when you see the video of it from behind, does it look harder on TV than it actually was?
PHIL MICKELSON: At the time, it didn't look that hard. You know, at the time, the gap looked pretty good, pretty big.
What I didn't realize was, like the challenge that I had, it was a total blind shot because I was staring right at the trunk of the tree. And what I didn't realize was if I were a right-handed player, although it shouldn't make a difference, because the lie would be a hooked lie, it would be difficult not to start it too far right and not hit that tree right away.
But because I was left-handed, I was able to not have that hooked effect and kind of fit it through the gap a little bit easier. It didn't even dawn on me that that was the case until I stood there in the practice round right-handed and thought, gosh, I don't know if I can squeeze it through there, just because of the angle of the trees.

Q. The conversation? Because it sound like Bones was as diplomatic as he could be, but he was without trying to talk you out of it, trying to talk you out of it?
PHIL MICKELSON: You mean those three times? (Laughter).
Well, as I said to him then, there's a point in every tournament where you have to take on some risk. You can't expect that other players are going to give it to you.
Even though K.J. Choi in front of me may have made par and I still would have been in the lead if I would have made par, that's a hole you have to take advantage of if you're going to win this tournament.
It was a 6-iron for crying out loud. It wasn't like I'm hitting a 3-wood there. I had a huge margin of error.
As my shot dispersion for a left-handed player, if I come out of it, it's going to be short left, and if I pull it, it's going to be long right. It fit perfectly with the angle of the green. So I can aim at the middle. If I came out of it, it would still carry the water left and if I pulled it fractionally, it would go longer right and still carry the creek. I didn't feel like I had to hit a perfect shot and to get on the surface to have an eagle putt. It gave me a sense of freedom that I didn't have to hit an absolute perfect shot, even though I was able to pull one off.

Q. I think you've been here three times before this week, three separate times; if you could just clarify that, but can you tell what you get out of those visits, how much that helps you. And obviously not playing today that probably is a help to you, to not have to go out there today?
PHIL MICKELSON: I didn't see how playing today was going to benefit me given conditions were supposed to be so drastically different this week. I've altered my schedule a little bit and I'm fortunate that I've been here a number of times to see the golf course play in different conditions and get the work done on the golf course that I wanted to heading into the tournament.
I came here two separate occasions, once before Doral and then before the Houston Open; spent a few days before the Houston Open. A couple of things: It gives me the opportunity to see the changes to the golf course, any type of subtle changes like we saw on greens 11 and 17 and make some adjustments, and also gives me a chance to hit the shots that I'm going hit.
More than that, though, when I drive down Magnolia Lane, I get reenergized with the game of golf. You know I've played since I was a year and a half; I'm 40, so 38 and a half 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. I could easily forget week-in and week-out playing the PGA TOUR how lucky I am to play this game.
When I come back to Augusta National, I just remember how much I loved it as a kid, dreamt of playing the TOUR, dreamt of playing in the Masters and winning this tournament and being a part of it. All of the feelings come back when I drive down Magnolia Lane. It just reinvigorates my passion for the game.

Q. There was a time when you came to press conferences and had to be asked about being the best player never to win a major. How frustrating were those days and do you have empathy and sympathy for what Lee Westwood is going through?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that was seven years ago. You need to let that go. (Laughter).
I understand where Lee is at, and he's been the No. 1 player in the world for a few months until Martin took over, and I think his game is at such a high level right now that I just think it's a matter of time, as well.
Gary, you were going to ask one, too.

Q. On all of those visits you made, did you, at the request of someone you were with, try that shot on 13 again, and what results did you have?
PHIL MICKELSON: I didn't see the point. I've already done that. (Laughter).

Q. In the year since winning last year, is it possible just to reflect for a moment on the end, the finish last year and the emotion and just what it meant to you, that ending last year?
PHIL MICKELSON: That was a really special event for me, a special week for me and Amy and the family.
At the time, we were still right in the thick of a lot of things, and it was a really big emotional boost for us. And things have been going so much better. Like we are in such a better place now that we are just really excited and appreciative.

Q. People say it can take something out of you to win on TOUR and I know you're limiting your practice round; but what will you do to be fresh when you go out on Thursday?
PHIL MICKELSON: Nothing out of the ordinary. Again, try to do similar to what I did in 2006, which is carry momentum into the tournament. The only thing I'm doing is altering my practice schedule. I was going to play a practice round today and take it easy and practice tomorrow. I'm going to reverse that. I'll end up just practicing today and taking my practice round tomorrow.

Q. How are you physically, the arthritis, did that bother you?
PHIL MICKELSON: It was later.

Q. How is everything now?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've been doing really well with my treatment and I've been able to resume all of my normal activities. Yeah, I've been able to work out the same, practice the same. So there's no reason that I shouldn't be able to perform the same as well.

Q. You mentioned Ishikawa, young Ishikawa awhile ago. Talk about his decision to donate his earnings this year to Japan?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've been saying this a couple of years now since he's been a professional, he just seems like a really classy kid -- kid, individual, he's half my age, but he's really a nice guy to play with and be around and has an impressive golf game and I think it's cool what he's doing.

Q. You hear a lot of guys say that this was a more interesting golf course when there was no rough. I'm wondering if you agree with that, or if it actually plays to your strengths?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, we don't have rough here. We have first cut. Are you referring to the first cut? Is that right, Ron? (Laughter).
I think that when the first cut was first implemented it was designed to make it a little more challenging. And what I found now since the first cut has been implemented, the course has also undergone some extensive lengthening. And the trees have been added on a number of holes, too.
The first cut actually helps players now, in my opinion, because it prevents balls from running further into the trees and gives them a shot just off the fairway and inside the tree line where you have a shot to the green, as opposed to another five, eight yards where it could be stymied behind trees.
I don't know if it serves the purpose, with the course being lengthened now, as far as the course being more challenging. But the great thing about Augusta National, whether there's first cut or not, you always have a shot and a lie that you can do something with. Sometimes you take on a lot of risk doing that, but you seem to always have an opportunity to recover, and I think the most exciting shot in golf is the recovery shot. And you seem to have a lot of them here, make it's just me, but there seems to be a lot of recovery shots here. (Laughter).

Q. In years past, we come in here and there's usually a favorite or maybe three or four favorites. Seems like this year, a lot of guys are at the top of their game coming in here. Do you get that sense?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've always felt that this tournament has a lot of players that are playing well heading in, that guys gear their game for this event, and it can be one of the toughest tournaments to win, because so many guys are playing well.
And I think that as a player, I would never discount any single player that's in this field.

Q. It's been 25 years since Jack's win. Could you share your memories at the time of that moment and where the historian in you places that event?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I was at home watching it on TV just like everybody else going nuts and it was an incredible thing to watch. When he bogeyed 12, I didn't think he was going to be able to pull it off.
Yet even after he birdied 13 and eagled 15, I still thought like it was in control of maybe Seve or even Tom Kite; Norman, you didn't even see really as he went on a four-birdie stretch.
I was at home watching it. It was one of the most exciting tournaments I've ever seen, if not the most exciting.

Q. Wondering from there is another major venue where you have as an aggressive of a mind-set as you do here, or close to, or is there nothing really like this?
PHIL MICKELSON: There's nothing like this course as far as length. I mean, there's some courses that we play that have great risk/reward a lot like Augusta National, just week-in and week-out on TOUR we have a number of them.
But the thing about Augusta is that length is a big factor here. Even though you can win at all lengths, no matter how far you hit the golf ball, length is a factor and is an advantage, and to be able to keep the ball in smaller sections on the green can be very advantageous.
So this week is the one week where I swing the absolute hardest. I mean, I've been working out for it. I saw a back specialist last night and continue to see, just to make sure that my back hangs in there. It feels terrific, but I've been working on it for some time to make sure it's strong enough to withstand the type of rotational speed that I'm going to be trying to apply this week, because I believe it's a big advantage if you can move it out there.

Q. We have six brilliant Europeans in the top 10 in the world now, mainly Brits. Have they raised the bar? Have they made it more difficult to win majors now than a couple of years ago when you were vying with Tiger?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's been great for world golf that we have had so many non-Americans playing well and moving up the World Rankings. I think it's created some great international exposure.
Certainly many of you and your colleagues have a sense of pride, and I think it's been really good for the game in general. They seem to -- many of those players seem to be up there in every single major. I know Martin won the PGA last year. You get a player from South Africa like Louis Oosthuizen who wins, and Graeme McDowell from Europe, from Ireland; I think it's just great for world of golf to have such great play from players all over the world.

Q. You have a 1:48 tee time Thursday; as defending champion would you vote for earlier or is that okay with you?
PHIL MICKELSON: I like the latest tee time possible here. And the reason is, about 5 o'clock, it seems to just calm down. It seems like any wind that might be out there just seems to subside. It seems very peaceful. And I would love nothing more than to have the last tee time every day. (Laughter).

Q. When you carry the bunker at 8, what club do you have in, what is the shortest club you've had in, and how important is your overall short game here at Augusta?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, my short game is critical, whether I drive the ball well and hit greens in regulation, or not, I need to rely on my short game to take advantage of the par 5s and such, because I'm not going to hit every green here in regulation or the par 5s in two.
So I need to be able to get up-and-down and salvage pars.
The only way that the bunker on 8 is carryable is if it's hot and maybe a little bit downwind. And if that's the case, then I can have a mid-iron in. But usually that hole now, given its length, it's not really reachable, unless it is hot, unless we get the right conditions. And last year we were able to reach it all three days. But when I come out and play practice rounds and it's cold or the wind is in, it's not even reachable in two.
But because it's hot or expected to be hot, I think we'll be able to reach it and probably a 5- or 6-iron is feasible if I hit a good drive.

Q. When Tiger had his run, there was a lot of buzz, and some might say an effort to Tiger-proof the course and now you have three of the last seven, and if you were to Phil-proof the course, how would you do that?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, certainly I'm not going to voice that. (Laughter) I think the golf course is very fair no matter what side of the ball you stand on. There are holes that fit well to my eye. Like that second shot on 13 that I talked about, and there are some that don't.
The 16th hole is an extremely tough shot for me because if I come out of it, it goes into the pond left and if I pull it fractionally, it goes on top and I have an almost impossible two-putt. There are holes that are challenging, much more challenging for me -- the tee shot on 5 is another example and it's the reason I hit 3-wood. If I pull my drive, it goes hot to the right into the trees, and there are some very challenging shots.
I don't think it favors a left-handed player or right-handed player or anything needs to be done to it. I think it's really a wonderful test right now.

Q. Lee was in here before talking about how patience is required here. And you've before talked about you have to take on some risk like you did on 13. How do you balance the patience with your natural aggressiveness?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, that's just part of the decision-making process; deciding when you want to take on the risk and go for it and when you don't. I don't like to put the tournament in somebody else's hands on Sunday. I like to put it in my own control if I can pull off a shot.
But I don't want to kick myself out of the tournament or knock myself out of the tournament on a Thursday or Friday, so I'm much more apt to not take the risk on Thursday, Friday, and bring on a little bit more Saturday and Sunday.

Q. It's been noted that this is the first time since about the same time in '97 that you've been ahead of Tiger in the World Rankings; does that mean anything to you?
PHIL MICKELSON: It would really mean a lot if he was 1 at the time when I passed him, yeah that would be really cool. (Laughter).
But he and I both have some work to do on our games as well as our performances in these tournaments to move back up there, and then it would mean a lot.

Q. It's no secret that you're in a lot better physical shape than you've been in recent years; you talk about things like rotational speed. I'm curious, has your vertical leap increased?
PHIL MICKELSON: The cameras did not get me at the apex. I need to stress that. (Laughter).
It's not something I work on, per se. But I would venture to say that it's hard to not get any worse, you know. So I would think it would be a little bit higher.

Q. What's your favorite hole here, and why? And how do you play it?
PHIL MICKELSON: 13 is my favorite hole for two reasons. It sets up very well for me being able to carve a slice around that corner, as opposed to trying to time a hook. So the tee shot is a much more comfortable tee shot for me.
And it's at a point in the course where your round is going one way or the other, and it gives you an opportunity to get a shot back, or to keep a hot round going if you're able to make a birdie or eagle. I think there's great risk/reward there.
I think Rae's Creek has hurt a lot of players' chances to win this golf tournament, and that hole has also propelled a lot of players on to victory. Not only is a challenging golf hole strategically placed and designed, it's one of the most beautiful holes in golf, too, as you look down and see the azaleas. It's really a special part of this course.

Q. Talk about the uniqueness of the Champions dinner and your decision to honor Seve?
PHIL MICKELSON: All of the past champions are really thinking about Seve. And I know that when we went through -- when Amy and I went through the most difficult time of our treatment, the players on TOUR did a lot to let us know they were thinking about us. And many of you did the same thing, some of the articles that I responded to; it really meant a lot and gave us an emotional boost.
Honoring Seve is easy and no big deal, but I just want him to know that we all wish he was here and we are thinking about him so we are just having a little Spanish cuisine tonight.
At 17 he was the guy I wanted to play with. I got into my first PGA TOUR event, the San Diego Open, and was able to get a practice round with him setup by a friend of ours, Ernie Gonzalez. He was the classiest gentleman to me. From that day on and the rest of my career, he has been the nicest guy and supportive and been nothing but class to me, and I just always appreciated that. Because here is a guy I looked up to as a kid, watched the way he played and loved the way he played and was drawn in by his charisma and he didn't let me down at all. He was every bit the gentleman I thought he was and more and I just want to let him know that we are thinking of him.

Q. Among players in their 40s and 50s, who do you think is playing well that might have a reasonable chance to win, and who would be your absolute sentimental favorite that might have a reasonable chance to win among the older guys?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, that's a great question. I just have not thought about it. I have no idea. I'm trying to kind of keep my focus on getting my game ready to try to beat those guys that you're talking about.

Q. If this were a normal week, you were playing in a PGA TOUR event after winning, would there be a natural tendency to sort of have some sort of emotional letdown after winning a tournament, and if so, does this place sort of take care of that for you?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, that's possible. But there have been, I don't know, four or five times where I've won back-to-back weeks on TOUR throughout my career, so I don't feel like an emotional letdown is a concern. It's very doable and it's been done now to back a win up with another.
Certainly following last week's tournament, it's much easier to take that momentum and try to carry that into this tournament than it is to reminisce and be so happy about last week's win.
I am; it's great; and I love that I played well. But I want to finish it off right and try to play well this week, too.

Q. Martin Kaymer was in here earlier saying he really wished he was left-handed and got to play this golf course that way. Obviously it's worked well for you and Mike Weir has won here; do you think guys like you all, maybe even a Bubba Watson this week, do have a little bit of an advantage shaping it around this course?
PHIL MICKELSON: I would love Martin to play this tournament left-handed. (Laughter) I don't think the golf course favors one side or the other, but there are a couple of holes that I feel more comfortable on left-handed, but there are a couple of holes that I feel more uncomfortable playing left-handed.
I think Bubba has been playing very well, and the one thing that he does extremely well, better than most players, is he has very creative shot-making. I think that's going to lead well. If he pulls some of the shots off that he sees, he's going to be able to capitalize and make a lot of birdies on the par 4s as well as the par 5s. I think he's going to be a factor; he's been playing such good golf that his creativity and golf skills should get him into contention, not just this week, but at multiple Masters.

Q. Do you have an opinion on whether you think Tiger will still pass Jack's major total and has that opinion changed because of what this past 17, 18 months have been like?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't have an opinion, no.

Q. You mentioned Magnolia Lane a little bit ago, and I'm curious, did you notice there's a tree missing and what were your thoughts, if, in fact, you saw it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I did, and it was just disappointing that a tree that's been there for so many decades was uprooted last night. It's such a special drive. I was surprised, you know, that it wasn't replaced the first half hour. (Laughter) I don't understand what happened. I think Chairman Payne must have been sleeping.
This place does it right, and that drive, I guess it has 60 Magnolia trees now instead of 61, but did not detract from the drive up.
RONALD TOWNSEND: Thank you very much.

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