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February 6, 2006

Phil Mickelson

THE MODERATOR: Phil, thanks for taking time to join us today. As all of you participants know, Phil won what turned out to be the absolute longest ever BellSouth Classic ever last year, maybe not in terms of total number of holes but certainly in days. It was his second win here, and both he and Scott McCarron will have an opportunity to become the first three-time champs this year in 2006. And really, as much as the victory, Phil, I think a lot of people will remember last year for you not bailing out and heading to Augusta National like a few of your peers did, and that will long be appreciated here. I think all of us are glad that you were rewarded for staying.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I was just going to say, I really enjoyed the week. I know we didn't get the weather that we had wanted, but it doesn't put any less value into how prestigious a TOUR event is in general, especially the BellSouth Classic. I appreciate everything that BellSouth has done for the event, and standing by it, as well. It wasn't the most ideal weather conditions, but I appreciate them standing by the TOUR, as well.

THE MODERATOR: Now I'd like to turn it over to Dave Kaplan, our tournament director, who will talk about this year's tournament, some of the commitments we've had so far in addition to Phil, and then he will introduce Phil and we will open it up to questions and answers. Dave?

DAVE KAPLAN: Well, I guess before I talk at all about the field, I think probably the most important thing that has happened at the TPC at Sugarloaf is the significance of converting the rough from zoysia to bermuda, which now affords us the opportunity to overseed the rough, which has been done. It's a major change in playing conditions and instead of having dormant zoysia, which offered virtually no penalty, the rough is now overseeded with ryegrass and should be a good challenge for errant tee shots. There are a couple greens, that one green in particular, No. 9, that underwent complete renovations, softened the contours and added a number of pin positions, another thousand square feet of green were added, a bunker on the front right corner of the green. And since No. 9 is virtually brand new, the texture and the ball roll will be slightly different than we've had, than we did and will have in the other 17 greens. In addition, all of the front nine bunkers have been rebuilt fixing some of the collapsing sidewalls and replacing the drainage; new sand which may have a slightly different playing characteristic. And the back nine, the back nine will be done next year. The rough will be -- the zoysia rough there, which is overseeded will be changed to better bermuda. Some additional changes include extending the front of No. 1 tee which will help us in very windy conditions which we've had a few times. We've added a tee at No. 5 repositioned one of the fairway bunkers at No. 5 and adjusted the landing zone on No. 5 a little bit, raising the front portion of No. 5 green for an added pin location. We've added one fairway bunker on the right side of No. 7 and repositioned the other right fairway bunker. Overall we think the changes are very positive, the workmanship has been excellent. The new tees that we've added, also a new tee box at No. 10 have added about 50 yards to the golf course, and it should be a good test, as it always is. Hopefully it will play this year the way the golf course was intended to play, hard and fast. As far as commitments are concerned, of course, Phil has committed to playing the golf tournament. Stewart Cink, Chris DiMarco, Zach Johnson past champion, and Ben Crane. It's pretty early for commitments. Internationally, we've used our four international exemptions for Miguel Angel Jiménez, Shingo Katayama, Henrik Stenson who has played so well in Europe, and Colin Montgomerie. So those four international players will be playing in our tournament, also, Scott McCarron a past champion; Jose Maria Olazabal, another one that came very close last year and came very close the weekend before last. So I would expect we would have a good field, probably pretty close to the same cast of characters we've had in the past, and I expect us to have another good tournament. Our purse this year is $5.3 million, and that's up $300,000. So y'all don't want to listen to me, I'll turn it over to our two-time champion, Phil Mickelson.

THE MODERATOR: Why don't you, Phil, just spend a minute or two talking about the win last year, and all of the challenges of a long week and then we'll open it up to Q&A.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I thought it was one of the more exciting events that we had, or exciting finishes that we had, last year with five guys being in a playoff. I felt like there were ten or 12 people that probably could have and certainly probably should have and could have won the tournament coming into the last hole. It made for a very exciting event. And even though I had played well, I think the first round and was in contention and looked like I had a good chance being in the last group, I remember a point standing on the ninth hole, off in the trees, off in the hazard over there, trying to wedge out and leaving it in the hazard, being a couple over par already, and four or five shots off the lead, and trying to find a way to get back in the tournament looking like I had no chance. I was able to wedge out my third one and get up-and-down from 120 yards and make a 15-footer for bogey and gave me a chance to shoot 4-under, I think the back side, just to get into a playoff. That to me is a tournament I look back on as a great example for myself when I get into a bind on the golf course and things are not going my way, as the reason is to stay in there and keep fighting. Because even though it looked like the tournament was all but over for me personally, I was able to hang in there and turn it around and get into a playoff and ultimately win. And that's the tournament I like to look back on as my example of why to always fight and hang in there.

Q. You talked about how TPC at Sugarloaf is a great course to prepare for The Masters, can you explain a little bit about why and maybe some other reasons you really like the course or why you think you've done so well there, winning twice?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I do like the golf course a lot. I also like the fact that unlike this upcoming year, in the past, there has not been any rough, and I've been able to get away with a few wayward drives and still be able to finish some holes. It also has provided a very similar test of golf to what we see the next week, and I really commend the tournament committee on doing that. What it does is it allows us a great way to not only compete in a championship, but also to hit the same shots that we'd be hitting the following week at Masters, which makes it very enticing for a lot of players to come and play; knowing that it's also while we're competing, without even thinking about it, preparing for the following week. I think knowing that it's a great preparation, I also fight really hard to work on the shots and practice hard in between rounds to get my game ready.

Q. They are moving the BellSouth next year back to May after THE PLAYERS Championship. Is that going to impact your preparations for The Masters, and are you still going to be consistent and play over in Atlanta each year, even though the dates of the tournament are going to move?

PHIL MICKELSON: That's a good question for me that I don't really have an answer for a year and a half in advance. But I do feel as though the week before The Masters next year, which is now going to be the Houston Open, doesn't really provide me the same opportunities that the BellSouth did or has provided me as far as similar golf courses with the same types of greens, the same types of grasses, the same types of shot values, as well as a two-hour drive. I've always loved being able to go down the Monday and Tuesday and practice at Augusta, because not only was I getting ready for The Masters, but I'm also getting ready for the BellSouth. It really disappoints me that the BellSouth lost the date of the week before the Masters, and I think it has for a lot of players. And what I'm looking at now is trying to find another way to prepare for the majors that doesn't include playing the week before because I don't feel that Houston provides the same opportunity.

Q. I know you've had great success in Atlanta, not just here but THE TOUR Championship and the PGA, do you expect you'll continue playing here even though the date is going to be changing?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, like I said, I don't have an answer for that a year and a half in advance. I don't know how my schedule is going to be affected in '07 because so many tournaments have changed dates. But what I am saying is that the week before the Masters, which is now going to be Houston, it looks like I'm going to be trying to find another way to do that. I know that's not an answer to your question, because I just don't have an answer for the BellSouth. But the week before the Masters, because I'm not getting the same opportunities like the BellSouth does as far as course conditioning, as far as similarities of grasses and setup and shot values. I don't think I'm going to be preparing for The Masters by playing the week before anymore.

Q. How is it going to change now, they have changed the schedule a pretty good bit, and that's going to require a lot of the guys to alter what tournaments they play in and how often they play. Have you sat down at all yet and started thinking about your schedule yet for next year, or are you just going to wait until the end of the season and think about it at that point?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I'm still worried about my schedule for this year, trying to get it worked out. So I haven't looked at 2007 just yet; although, I glanced briefly at the schedule. What's going to ultimately happen is I'm going to end up playing like 20 events. I typically play 20 or 21 events a year and I'll end up playing 20 or 21 events. Now, which events I'll play, I don't know. I would suspect that two or three of those events would probably change. I don't know which ones yet. I think the goal, though, of what we're doing with the changes, we're not going to get the top players to play more events. What we want to do is get the top players to play more of the same events. And I think that we're creeping up on that and getting maybe three or four additional tournaments where the top players will play, even if we continue playing maybe just the same number of events that we've played in years past.

Q. One of the attractions, I'm wondering, when you're playing at The Masters and in Atlanta, do you notice that the golf fans there really appreciate the finer points of the game? Do you have a sense that they know the subtleties and the nuances of what you guys are doing and you're playing before very knowledgeable crowds and galleries when you play in Augusta and at the BellSouth?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I do feel that. I mean, certainly Augusta, we have the same gallery every year, which is very rare. They have seen the tournament for years and years and they do gather a sense of knowledge about that. And because of its proximity, so many people that attend the BellSouth Classic have attended The Masters and understand the tradition and nuances of the game and are very appreciative. And I think the biggest thing for me is that I go to the town of Atlanta, the City of Atlanta, the suburbs of Atlanta, the people are extremely nice and treat everybody with respect. When the TOUR comes to town, it's no different, they just treat us so well. I've really enjoyed playing in Atlanta. I've always thought that it was a town that I could easily move to and live in. I've always enjoyed some of the great things that the city provides, whether it's basketball or football or baseball or hockey. It just has all of the major sports, it's got great college towns, with Georgia Tech right there and University of Georgia just about on hour's drive away. I've just enjoyed spending a lot of time there. I go in a few days and drive down to Athens, which is not too far away and spend some time with my caddie, Bones, where he lives down there and play with the University of George team which is, in fact, where I met Bubba Watson years ago and watched him, and now he's bringing that act to the PGA TOUR and doing very well. But the people of Atlanta have always been terrific to play in front of.

Q. As a follow-up, I think I'm guessing that one of the reasons the BellSouth agreed to the change was the weather difficulties they have had in that late March early/April date, and both of your victories at the BellSouth occurred on Monday, so you're a Monday victor. Do you think that the BellSouth and the TPC Sugarloaf will be a more enjoyable course to play for the galleries perhaps in the May weather than it would be in the early April and late March?

PHIL MICKELSON: It very well may be. I think with some of the course changes they were talking about, how the course is designed to play firm and fast, that will be coming out much more with the later date, I would think, as opposed to the rainy season end of March, early April. Again, I haven't really played the course at that time, so I don't know. I just think that it will play a little bit different. It also provides the tournament an opportunity to stand out. Maybe some guys that don't like to play the week before a major, might now come to the BellSouth, but it might also affect the foreign people that we have. I heard that we have four very good foreign exemptions, and those players, I believe, are all in the Masters and want to come in to the States and play early and play in Atlanta because of that. I'm hoping that it doesn't negatively affect that part of the field, because it is providing for a lot of strength in the field.

Q. A moment ago you mentioned the TOUR attempting to arrange the tournaments so that more of the big names play together at the same time. Over the past few years we've been talking about the Big Four: Yourself, Tiger, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, I'm wondering, you're considered one of those elite players, particularly over the last couple of years with two majors under your belt. When you are in an event and you have a sniff of the lead and you're going up against perhaps pursuing Tiger or you're in the lead and know that Vijay is right behind you; or, if you're playing in the same group with one or two of those guys, Ernie, Vijay, whoever, do you get a charge out of that or a sense that it's something really special, a chance to play head-to-head or compete head-to-head with these other guys who are considered among the elite? Is it enjoyable for you? Does it change your focus? Does it amp up your juices a little bit to play against those guys or to be competing with them?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, any time I'm in contention, I'm amped up and I'm excited to play. I don't know if it's any more so or not, but I certainly enjoy the opportunity to play against and try to beat the best players in the world. I think from a player's point of view, we all want to compete against each other as many times as we can. But it's really not our job to call each other up and say, hey, what events are you playing, let's all get together and play the same event. We choose events for different reasons. Some like the course, some like the cities, some like the accommodations, some like the purse, some like the time schedule that it fits into. That decision-making process as far as what tournament we play in is different for each player. That's why it's really important for the TOUR to step in and to create those events like they are trying to do in the '07 schedule. And again, hopefully we should have three or four more. But there's no reason why we shouldn't compete against each other every week on the PGA TOUR.

Q. You mentioned briefly some reasons you like Atlanta. Can you just it quickly make a comment about it? It sounds like you do come in a little bit early. Do you have time to do anything fun here, and if so, do you, or do you and your family do anything for fun here in Atlanta?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we've gone to a few Atlanta Hawks games. A friend of ours runs the arena over there, just a terrific guy, and we've been able to sneak a couple of tickets to the games and I enjoy watching basketball games. Football season is not going on while we're there, but occasionally we'll go to some Atlanta Braves games, too. I think just what a great organization that is to win the division, however many years in a row they have, I think 12 years maybe, just incredible, 14. So we enjoy coming in and going to a lot of sporting events.

Q. Each of your victories at the BellSouth came in playoffs, talking about a tough course and tough conditions and some really tough competition. What is it about that course and the competition that seems to bring out the best in your game, and how does that course match up with your game when you're playing well, as you have so often here?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think the biggest thing for me as to why I've won the tournament or been able to win the tournament twice is really fortune; I've been fortunate a couple of times. I was fortunate in the playoff against Gary Nicklaus. Gary Nicklaus hit a shot that was right at the pin. And it was like if it carried a foot farther, it would have carried just over the bunker and trickled down right by the hole for a probable 2. Instead, it just caught the lip and left him a very difficult up-and-down and he made bogey. I was very fortunate last year because Olazabal should have won the tournament in regulation with a 4- or 5-footer for birdie on the last hole, and had the same chance again in the playoffs. So I was very lucky to have won both times. I wish there was another reason I could attribute it to. But honestly, I just can only attribute it to good luck.

Q. Talk a little about your play so far this year. You've had three Top-10s the last couple of weeks, but you have been not as sharp as you'd like to be. You've been close a couple of times and not been able to take advantage of it. Talk about how you are playing at this stage of the season.

PHIL MICKELSON: The first three weeks, I know the results, I finished Top-10, but my game felt a lot rustier than it's shown. However, I started to trying the ball much, much better this week at the Phoenix Open. I drove the ball much better and I started to regain some clubhead speed. When I start to swing well, I start to hit the ball longer because I'm able to swing faster and have everything stay in sync. That came around this week, but my putting did not. And so I have to spend a little bit more time; I've been spending a lot of time, but it has just has not quite settled in. Now, I did birdie five of the last six yesterday and made some good putts doing it, and I'm hoping to have keyed in on something. Unfortunately, we're going to the tournament this week that is notorious for having the bumpiest greens on TOUR and, I may be putting well and still not make them. So it's going to be a tough week to get my putting turned around, but that kind of seems like the last piece that I need before I hopefully get the results that I want.

Q. Do you have a favorite or a hole that you think is the most challenging at TPC at Sugarloaf?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think the finishing hole is probably the most exciting finishing hole on the golf course because we've seen eagles on there, we've seen a lot of birdies, but we've also seen a lot of bogeys and doubles. I think it's one of the most difficult second shots if you're going that green that we have on TOUR, but certainly at the TPC of Sugarloaf. It's such a critical shot to get the right distance, because if you just go into the back bunker, in years past I've actually been in that back bunker on the downslope and hit my shot in the water because I could not stop it. So it's a very important shot to get the right distance, and it's very difficult because you're dropping down in elevation a great number of feet.

Q. Over the years there's always been that mythical title of "the best player never to have won a major," and you've got over that hump a couple of years ago. And the second one that often has made golfers separate themselves is winning multiple majors and now you've done that. You're still until the midst of your career, so I know you don't have a lot of time for assessment and so forth, but do you feel a load off your back, and do you appreciate that you're at a level in an historical sense that it's a rare thing for a golfer to win multiple majors? I know you still have a lot in your sights, but talk about that feeling, now that you are a Masters and a PGA Champ?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, certainly it was a great relief to have won the Masters and to break through winning my first major. And it was actually a very exciting point for me to win the PGA last year because it showed that it wasn't a fluke. But I think the biggest thing, reason for excitement for me is that it took me a number of years to find out how to get my best play, how to get my best golf out of me. And I think I've found a preparation method. I think I've found a style of play that is something that brings out my best golf and gives me a chance to compete in tournaments, especially majors. That's why I'm so excited because I feel like there's going to be an opportunity to win a number more of those events. And because I have found something that worked at Augusta, yes, it was exciting to get the monkey off my back, but it was even more exciting to have found what it was I was searching for for so many years that allowed me to play my best golf, especially on the back nine when I needed it most.

Q. Was it a trial and error thing? We hear about the veteran pitchers who know how to win; even when they don't have their best stuff, they know how to win. Are you getting more out of your game now regardless of whether you have all of your best shots on a particular day?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, you're right in saying it's a trial and error thing. That's exactly it. It also is finding how to bring your best golf out. What I've found was a preparation way that works best for me. It doesn't work best for everybody else, but it works best for me, and it took me a while to find that. And then what happened was I developed a certain comfort level on the golf course that allowed me to get in contention and shoot scores that were low enough to get in contention without actually playing my best, without actually hitting every shot perfect; being able to miss the ball around the golf course and miss it on the correct side and utilize my short game to make pars. That was when I really started to feel like I could compete in majors without playing my best golf.

Q. Is it a matter of maybe a small streak of conservatism from our usual style; have you pulled back a hair?

PHIL MICKELSON: I wouldn't necessarily say yes or no to that because I love playing aggressive golf. But what I try to do now is when I'm hitting the ball the way I want to, when I'm hitting the ball at the target and it's ending up where I want it to, then I can attack and go at the pins. But that doesn't happen for 72 holes; it kind of comes and goes. And when it's not quite there, I found a way in my swing to miss it on one side or the other and take out half of the trouble, which allows me to take out the greatest half of trouble, leaving me with an opportunity to get up-and-down.

Q. Have you been down to August yet and any thoughts on the changes they made there since last year?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I haven't been down there. I know that they lengthened it quite a bit. I thought last year it played extremely long. We got a little bit of rain and the fairways were softer and it played as long as I can ever remember it playing. And then to add length to it, I think they all -- that a lot of the players who played last year are a little worried because it was so firm, or so soft that it needs to be firm. With that being said, I think there's a number of guys that feel as though the people that can win are being reduced.

Q. Are you happy to see the changes? A couple of the ones they made this year, to 4 and 7, they have changed the character of the holes a little bit. 7 used to be a drive and a pitch and now it's not. Do you appreciate the changes, or do you think they are messing with the character a little bit with some of the changes they have made?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, they have been doing that every year for the most part since I can remember. That's their prerogative. If they want to make the golf course play tougher, they are certainly doing the right things to do that. 7 has always been a birdie hole and now it's going to be one of the more difficult holes on the golf course. They are taking away a birdie hole and turning it into a very easy bogey; it's going to only raise the scores up. And I think what I like most about it is it used to be the only defense to the course was really firm, fast greens and there was a point in the 90s where they really crossed over the line. I saw guys like Jeff Sluman on the second hole there have a 4-footer uphill and it spun out on him, and then this rolled 60 feet off the green. That no longer is the case. The last five years since they lengthened it, the greens have been very fair. Now, granted, they are fast and they are hard and they are tough, but they have not cross the over the line, and they don't need to now because the greens are not the only defense to the golf course. The length now is becoming a huge factor, as well as the addition of the second cut. That second cut makes it very difficult to control the ball and the spin rate into the green. It now has a number of defenses that will make the golf course play very challenging, not just the greens. So I've seen a greater consistency in play, and in the setup, and I'm really pleased with that.

Q. How do you prepare for this event, other events? You said you go and practice at Augusta for a couple of days. Either for the BellSouth Classic or in general, do you have any special workout or other activity?

PHIL MICKELSON: I really don't, no. I just go into the course a couple of days early and try to prepare and hit the shots that I'm going to hit and practice those over and over, try to get comfortable with them.

Q. This is a bit off the subject but I've always been intrigued by the 16th at Phoenix. Is there any environment in golf like that? And No. 2, looking at the crowds and seeing the attendance figures, relative to Augusta National or the U.S. Open, for example, how much larger are they?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the golf course was built to accommodate a large number of people. So each hole has an amphitheater effect. There might be 150,000, 160,000, 170,000 people out there in one day, as opposed to a 40,000- or 50,000-person tournament. But it feels very comparable because the court was set up to accommodate that. The 16th hole has a very unique feel to this because it does have so many people. It does have that stadium- or arena-type feel or setup, and again, can accommodate so many people. It provides just a unique environment to golf. We just don't seem to have anything like that. If we had more of it, I don't know if it would be such a great thing. It's nice to have it every now and then. It's nice for the community in Phoenix to be more exposed to the game of golf, because almost half of the people out there are just there for the excitement of the tournament and because it's the place to be. It's not because they are there to watch great golf; they want to be a part of the party. And that helps us expose the game to people who otherwise would not be exposed to golf.

DAVE KAPLAN: Phil mentioned Bubba Watson. He has committed and he is in the field, by the way.

PHIL MICKELSON: He's a tremendous player. I know he went to Georgia. He's going to do very well on the TPC at Sugarloaf as far as he hits it.

THE MODERATOR: Phil, thanks so much for joining us and we'll look forward to seeing you in just a few weeks.

PHIL MICKELSON: That sounds great and thank you very much for having me. I'll see you in a little bit, and best of luck with the preparation for the tournament.

End of FastScripts...

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