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April 10, 2004

Phil Mickelson


RONALD TOWNSEND: We are pleased to have Phil Mickelson with us. Phil shot 3 under par 69 today, and he's tied for the lead.

We invite your questions, please.

Q. How much fun was that wait on 11?

PHIL MICKELSON: We've had a wait each day, so it wasn't a big deal. 10, 11, 12 are not really the holes you want to be waiting on, but it was all right.

Q. How do you plan to spend the time between tonight and tomorrow before you tee off?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'll do the same things that I've been doing. I've got a nice routine the day of the round. When I go late, I come out early, get a nice practice session in and so forth. We have a nice dinner waiting at home and play with the kids for a little bit.

We've got a ping pong table, so we've been going at that a little bit, too, and having fun.

Q. How much attention has been paid to your decision making now in this situation? How much has your execution improved?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think the decision making has improved for the simple reason I've been driving the ball in play. I don't have the decisions that I had when I was off in the trees as much. It's just a much easier game, driving it in play, and even when I do miss a fairway, it's by a small amount, rather than big misses.

The golf course here at Augusta National has the reputation as being wide open, but it's not. It's one of the tightest driving courses that we have. It's just that we don't have that thick, penalizing rough that you have to hack out of. You have a very difficult shot into the green if you don't drive it in play.

So the decision making process has been much easier.

Q. How important was that putt you made in terms of momentum?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's one stroke, and each stroke is critical. Whether it was the last putt on Saturday, whether it's last putt on Sunday or the first putt on Thursday, every stroke carries equal weight.

Q. I don't know how you felt going into the final round of other majors you've been in, but does this one seem closer now, more in touch?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that heading into the final round, I'm much more at ease than I have been in the past, where I've been anxious and wondering how is it going to go on the range beforehand, or am I going to drive it in play or is my swing going to be there. I don't feel that anxiety. I haven't felt it all year.

I feel very confident that I'm able to drive the ball in play, that I'm able to hit my irons the proper distance. I feel very confident in my putting and have all year. So it's been a nice change.

Q. What was playing with Charles Howell like today?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I enjoy Charles. We've been on the Presidents Cup team. We've played a bunch of golf together. I find him to be a very fun and interesting individual. I love being paired with him.

I thought we had a fun day. I know it wasn't the round that he had hoped for, and I know that he's going to have many opportunities to win golf tournaments out here at Augusta. I'm sorry that it didn't go well for him today.

Q. Your pursuit of that first major has been obviously well documented, written about, talked about, and it's still obviously a full day to go tomorrow, but can you talk about if there's been any times over the years where you've kind of daydreamed about what it would be like to win that first one, particularly with the near misses like the last few years here ? When you see a guy like Mike Weir win, do you wonder, hey, if that could be me? Could you talk about that pursuit?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's been a fun challenge. I've just really enjoyed the challenge of trying to break through because it has been so difficult. Things are much more rewarding when they are difficult. For whatever reason, and there's a number of reasons, but for whatever reason, it's been much more difficult for me to win major championships than regular Tour events. That's starting to change a little bit. I feel like it's much easier for me to get in contention in majors than a regular event. I do know, if I'm fortunate enough to come through and win that green jacket tomorrow, you'll be seeing my dumb mug here every year for the rest of my life. (Laughter.)

Q. You said outside that you didn't know you had not led a major going into the final round.

PHIL MICKELSON: I feel like I've had so many chances to win, I can't believe that I haven't been in the lead. So that was interesting to me.

Q. Is that a good omen?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the reason why I like that is I feel like tomorrow, I'm not trying to chase somebody down, having to force things, having to make birdies, having to get off to a quick start or what have you.

I feel like if I just play the way I've been playing and drive it in play, I'll have my birdie opportunities. When I didn't birdie No. 2 today, the pin was in a great spot to make a birdie. It didn't bother me any because I felt like I'll have opportunities over the course of the round and it was much easier to let it go by, where in years past, I felt like, gosh, I have to birdie this hole; it's one of few opportunities.

Q. You seem to have a real peace about everything, and you said there's really not any anxiety. Can you think back to another time in your career when you were this much at ease and this confident with what you're doing with your game and on the course?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I felt like in college and amateur golf, I felt like I didn't have to do anything exceptional to be able to get in contention, but when I turned pro, I feel like I've got to be firing on all cylinders. When I came out, I have not ever been or spent much time on driving the ball in the fairway. I've always been trying to hit the ball hard as we know and make as many birdies as possible.

I just feel like as long as I've been hitting, it's just a much easier game keeping it in play. I wish somebody would have told me this earlier. (Laughter.) It's just so much easier.

Q. Do you think this is your best chance at a major?

PHIL MICKELSON: That's hard to say. But I do feel that heading into the tournament, I think I've felt more confident this week than I have any week; that is, come Sunday, I'll have a chance.

Q. From day one this year, you've seemed more relaxed. Is the relaxation leading to driving the ball in the fairway or is driving the ball in the fairway what's making you relaxed? Are they related?

PHIL MICKELSON: That's hard to say. I just feel as though when I'm standing on each tee box, I have an option. I can try to turn one over and hit it hard, or I can try to hit a cut shot.

The cut shot goes a good distance; it's not that it's short. It will carry a long ways, it just doesn't have that long roll or heat into it. Well, it's that 20 yards of roll that gets me into trouble because when the ball runs in the trees and what have you, that's what gets me into trouble.

If you noticed on the telecast, my ball is not rolling in the fairways as much as other guys'. It's all carry. So when it hits, it's a lot softer. So when I do miss it, it's not going as far off line.

Q. How many cuts do you play now?

PHIL MICKELSON: There's only two holes I try to turn it left to right, and not always on 1, but sometimes. Last two days I tried to. And 15, I will try to turn it left to right.

Occasionally, on 8. So usually, 1, 8 and 15 are the other three holes and typically it's only one or two out of those three.

Q. You talked about when you came here early with Rick Smith and Dave Pelz to try to find those places where you might be able to save yourself a shot or a half shot. Could you give some examples on where that may have happened?

PHIL MICKELSON: Perfect example was 18. Another example was 13. Let me think of one more example; it was 6.

I put myself in spots that I had very difficult chances to get up and down. And on 6, I knew that I was not going to get that within three feet of the hole. I was going to get it 15, 18 feet. I accepted my bogey. Now, I just so happened to make the putt, and it was a great putt to make. But I accepted the half a shot that I was going to lose, making a 4, and I saved a half a shot there because I gave myself that 18 footer up the hill where before I would be trying some type of lob shot and I would end up off the green and I would be fighting for bogey.

On 13, I knew that ball was going to go mostly down that hill. If I hit it just perfect, it could stay up. But what I didn't want to do was leave it short and have the same shot again. So I gave it a good chance, I hit it really good. I committed to the shot, hit it really good and it almost stayed up. It was pretty close, it was just a fraction hard and it almost went in. But it went down and I made my 5. So I saved a half a shot there because I could have been fighting, again, trying to make 4. I could have been fighting for par.

On 18 I spent countless hours with Dave on certain areas of around the greens putting because I'm not able to chip here. In the past I've been trying to chip. And the way they cut the grain in, when I hit my L wedge chip shot, it catches and it doesn't skid through and it stops short or it releases fat. So I've been putting it. You saw that on 13 and you saw that on 6. That's where I'm picking up that half a shot, those shots around the green, to maybe make par but at worst make bogey.

Q. You talked about the anxiousness before final rounds. In what way did that manifest itself and what did you feel then that you don't feel now?

PHIL MICKELSON: The anxiety I felt in the past, it's kind of hit or miss. How am I going to drive it today? How are my irons going to be? Am I going to get up? How is the putter going to be?

I've putted and driven very consistently this year. Tomorrow, I feel like it's just another day. Granted, it's the Sunday of the Masters, I don't mean that, but it's another day of how I've been playing this year, and I don't have that anxiety of is it going to be there or not.

Q. Could you tell which one was the hometown guy out there today from the galleries?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'll tell you, the galleries here are tremendous. The way they sent Arnie off yesterday and the way they treat all their past champions, the way they treat everybody around here is tremendous. Certainly it is a joy for every player here to play in front of them.

Q. In an odd little small way, with the golf ball thing and DiMarco; is there a little bit of credit that goes for him?

PHIL MICKELSON: Is he still chirping about that?

Q. He's waiting for his check.

PHIL MICKELSON: He wants a percentage.

When we played together at the Presidents Cup, that's when I started playing the back to the old Pro V1 because he didn't like playing with the X, with his irons. I felt that I started to hit some shots that I had not been hitting all year, and I'm sure he'll take credit for it tomorrow and he'll keep reminding me, as he did today, as he did yesterday. (Laughter.)

Got to give credit where credit's due.

Q. The ease, the lack of anxiety, that has to do with fixing the swing and working with Rick and Dave? That's the genesis of it?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think so. The other thing is my distance control with the irons just feels so much better. I don't have that concern of, will I carry this ridge or won't I. I know how far or how hard I have to hit each club now to get it to the safe spot. 14 was a good example today, where I would have made double bogey in the past. This is a great example of where in the past holes or pin placements have hurt me and I've learned from them.

14, that pin was tucked. I've made double there trying to make par from short. I took a I had 141 to carry, and I know that I can fly that 9 iron 141, and I just gave it a little bit extra, flew it about 148 and gave myself that putt coming back.

Q. You're playing the golf course differently than you have before in the sense of not aiming at pins and playing more conservatively; is that accurate?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that I've still tried to attack the same pins for birdie. I've still tried to birdie the same amount of holes or par them. The difference is that I have much better control with my distance to carry the humps or the critical points in the course to where you have to carry it.

Like No. 1, you cannot go long. Charles went long, barely, by inches, and he ended up making double. I knew that out of that bunker if I missed it left, I was okay, as long as I was short of the hole.

And so having the distance control has allowed me to putt it in spots where I can now play from there. It's not that I'm trying to be more conservative.

Q. Can you talk about the switch to the blade putter and why it was done and what role it's played this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: Good question. I switched from the blade and the Futura back and forth. The last few weeks I've been with the blade. There's really no rhyme or reason other than the blade has a tendency to square up a little bit more and the Futura has a tendency to hit it straighter. So when I start blocking with the Futura, I go to the blade, and it seems to be on line. So I've just been putting with the blade.

Q. Given your accuracy off the tee now, the distance control with the irons, the confidence in your putting, is it fair to say that you are playing now as well as you ever have?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think so, yes. I do.

Q. Can you imagine or envision what it would be like to walk up the 18th green with the title in hand?

PHIL MICKELSON: Ask this in 24 hours and then I'll have an answer for you (Laughter.)

Q. 69 was a pretty solid round, but how close were to you really taking that round deep today?

PHIL MICKELSON: Man, I thought that I really thought the backside I could get it going. I feel like the two putts that I had made on 11 and 17 were two shots, and then I feel like I've got to birdie 13 and 15; I could have shot the 4 under that I was hoping for, and instead I ended up shooting even.

I think the biggest thing for me is I didn't give shots away in an effort to make birdies. I think that's where I'm saving the shots that I was talking about coming in. I may not be making as many birdies, but I'm not throwing nearly as many away.

Q. You made a bunch of par saving putts early in the round. It seems in the past, a lot of times where you have faltered has been on those kind of situations. Did you feel that they were critical to the round as much as the birdies later on?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think so. I think that a par putt can give you much more momentum many times than a birdie putt, especially around here, where you just try to make par so many times.

I think that the par putt on 6 was a big one, first of all, because it gave me momentum, and second, it was going Mach 2 and it would have been off the green. (Laughter.)

Q. Can you talk about your relationship with DiMarco and what tomorrow will be like, and if there's any kind of a match play element at all involved there?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, there's not going to be any match play because we've got a number of guys that will Paul Casey at 4 under and a number of guys at 3, only a couple of shots back.

I think that Chris and I really enjoy playing together. We're going to have a fun day. We played together a bunch in college. It kind of has a feel. It's weird that we used to compete in collegiate tournaments and here we are competing Sunday at Augusta in the final group. It's just cool.

We have a lot of fun. We paired up together at the Presidents Cup. I certainly anticipate us pairing up again in this year's Ryder Cup. He's one of the more enjoyable guys to be around.

Q. This may seem like an unfair or loaded question, but I swear it's not. So many of your major championship near misses have been defined by Tiger Woods winning. How does it feel or look to you to have him nowhere in sight?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it doesn't suck, I'll say that. (Laughter.)

RONALD TOWNSEND: Next question. (Laughter.)

Q. They have moved up the starting times tomorrow, and from a playing standpoint, how much does a lot of water on this course affect the way you've been playing this course?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it won't affect the way I've been playing it as much because I'm not relying on roll off the tee and I'll be able to get after the pins if it does dampen.

I give a lot the committee a lot of credit because I know how much everybody likes to finish late on Saturday, and the fact that they are sacrificing that to get the round in, I give them credit for that. I think the last three or four holes today it was difficult to read the greens as the sun had already set. It was much harder to read them than earlier in the day when the sun was out. I don't anticipate there being that type of disadvantage with that and the shadows that we often get.

Q. Other than not having to chase anybody by being in the final group, is there any other advantage and did you know that the last 13 winners have come out of the last group?

PHIL MICKELSON: I didn't know that, but I like that stat. That's a cool stat. (Laughter.) The way I look at it as although we are leading going into tomorrow, by the time we get out and play, we will be somewhat trailing. There will be guys out in front of us that are going to be making a move. Now we probably won't be behind them, but instead of leading by two or three, we'll only be leading by one or we'll be tied because guys will get off to a quick start; it happens every year.

I think the key is to really not worry about what other guys are doing. Granted, I'll look at the leaderboard, but I can't really dwell on whether guys are taking it low or not. I've got to play the shot the way I feel the most confident and be patient on where I attack and where I don't.

Q. At PLAYERS Championship last year, during your press conference, you talked about how you enjoyed playing

PHIL MICKELSON: You mean a couple of weeks ago?

Q. A year ago.

PHIL MICKELSON: I didn't play it last year it must have been two years ago.

Q. You said given where you're sitting now today, what is more fun, playing that way or

PHIL MICKELSON: See, here's the difference. I don't feel like I'm playing conservative. I really don't. I just feel the difference is, one, I'm in play. I'm not trying shots out of the trees on 16 at Bay Hill going for a par 5. I'm going for the par 5 from the fairway.

It just doesn't feel to me like I'm not attacking pins. I'm going after every pin that I can get to trying to make birdies.

Yet, the difference has been that it's just a lot easier from the fairway and so some of the things that I'm working on, it just kind of clicked, and all of a sudden I feel like I'm hitting shots with my driver as would I with my 8 iron, little cuts, little draws, bringing it in lower to get more run or higher to get it to stop quicker. Like on 18 I tried to take something off that because I didn't want it to go into the bunker. I've been hitting 3 wood all week, the last couple of days. The wind was in, I hit a little cut shot to get the ball to stop and not release up the hill and go in the bunker.

So I feel like I'm hitting more shots with the driver as I would with the irons and keep it in play. It just feels like I can play aggressive from the fairway.

Q. For those of us who can't get the word "suck" in our newspapers, can you expand on that, the answer about Tiger not being in contention? (Laughter.)

PHIL MICKELSON: Not really, no. (Laughter.)

Q. I think you said earlier that you're now in a position where it's easier to play a major and you feel you have a better chance. Can you elaborate on that?

PHIL MICKELSON: The reason I say that, the penalty for a miss in a major championship is so great that it costs bogeys and doubles. I feel like now I have so much more control over the golf ball that my misses aren't as great, they are not getting those penalties. So it's much easier for me to get to the top, I feel, when other players are facing that penalty.

Q. Can you just talk a little about your relationship with Paul Casey?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, Paul and I have been good friends for quite some time. He went to Arizona State. We played a lot of golf together. Back then we used play some flag football, touch football games, too, and we've had a lot of fun together. I think that Paul Casey is one of the best players in the world. I think he's one of the best players on the European Team for sure in the Ryder Cup, and he's a guy that hits the ball a long ways, has great irons, good putter. Just a total, complete player.

I put him, and always have put him, in the likes of Adam Scotts and Justin Roses, the good, solid young players to keep an eye out for, and the Ricky Barneses, he's been very instrumental in that. He's in great shape and he's got that desire and will to work at his game. He pushes me and other players to continue to get better.

Q. What position were you and he in flag football?

PHIL MICKELSON: We always played against each other. We always had the alumni against the current team. He never won a game. But he was a decent receiver. (Laughter.)

RONALD TOWNSEND: Thank you, Phil, and good luck tomorrow.

End of FastScripts.

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