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February 25, 2004

Phil Mickelson


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Phil Mickelson, thanks for joining us, 2-1 win another over Lee Westwood today. If you could talk about that match. Obviously Lee has played really well the last year, but a good day for you today.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it was -- I think today is the best day for this event because you've got 32 matches, and I think so many of them are exciting. I was fortunate enough to win my match. I feel like this is a tournament, because it's ten minutes from my house, it's a course that I've won on when it was a stroke play match, it's a tournament I really want to do well at. I have not played as well as I would have liked in the years past, and I certainly hope that this is a good sign for the rest of the event, but I played very well today tee to green.

The one area that I struggled with was the putter. I made one putt today on the 9th hole, but other than that my speed was off the entire day, but because I hit the ball in the fairway, hit a lot of greens and was fairly close, I didn't put myself in too bad a spot.

Q. So if you could assess your year so far, with a win at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and four Top 10s in your first four starts.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's been a good start to the year. It's been a good start to the year. I played well at the Hope, played well the other three weeks, a tough back nine in Phoenix, but almost came through with an incredible Sunday at San Diego to get into a playoff, just fell a shot shy, and have really noticed some improvement from not just last year but from the years prior. I feel like I'm driving the ball much better and my irons have distance control much better. It feels good. My confidence is very high.

Q. You kind of almost sound like a fan talking about the first day. I'm wondering, when you're in the middle, do you catch yourself looking at the board for fun to see how other matches are going because it affects you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Occasionally, just out of curiosity. I try not to look at the brackets, try not to look at the next match or who I would play or what have you. I do enjoy looking at how certain guys do. I find match play to be very interesting head-to-head competition. There are some surprises and then there's some things you would just figure would be the case. I just enjoy this tournament. I think that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, because we have so many more matches, that they seem to be the most exciting days.

Q. It seemed like the putt that you made reference to on 9 kind of got you jump-started. Can you talk a little bit about that?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I had just knocked it in the water on 8 and hit it up there close, about 4 feet for par, and Lee makes birdie and went 1 up, and I just needed a little bit of a momentum swing. He had a tough putt for par. He was about 10 or 12 feet, but he made one like that on the second hole and I just felt I needed to make a birdie to win a hole. I hadn't made a birdie to that point. I hit it a foot on the next hole, and knocking it three feet on the following to give me three birdies that gave me the momentum to the match, so that putt kind of started to help things.

Q. Is there a little bit of a relief factor just getting through the first round of this event, not only for San Diego natives but for everybody? It's kind of an unusual format?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think so. I think a lot of times we come in with the expectations that the top seeds are going to breeze through. We've seen Peter O'Malley beat Tiger Woods in the first round and we've seen some big upsets. When you look at it rationally, it's not that big of an upset.

Gosh, in an 18-hole match so many things happen. Look at how many times Tiger has been the first-round leader at a Tour event that he's won. Very rarely. So somebody is always shooting a round lower for 18 holes, yet over 72, he might have the lowest round. But anybody on a given day over one round can get hot and win, so that first-round match can be a little unsettling.

Q. You don't want to have to walk through the clubhouse on Wednesday having lost your match here.

PHIL MICKELSON: You don't want to walk back to the clubhouse after losing your match ever, not just Wednesday.

Q. But you don't want to go home after one day of the tournament?

PHIL MICKELSON: Sure, I agree. You don't want to go home ever, but I agree.

Q. You mentioned you struggled with your putter. Some of the players before you mentioned that the greens were rather bumpy, a little trying. Was it the putting or was it the greens? Were the greens a little tough to putt?

PHIL MICKELSON: What happened for me is, I played Sunday, a practice round, and I didn't come back until today, and when I got on the practice greens, the greens were two feet faster on the stimp meter, and it threw my speed off; it makes a little putt have a little more break, so I was under reading a lot of putts.

When I did under read it and hit it so it had a chance to make it, it was way too fast. The third hole of the day, all I had to do was two-putt, and I rolled it 8, 10 feet by. My speed was just off and consequently I was very tentative throughout the round with the putter. In fact, the only putt I made on 9 would have gone by five feet by. So it was a good experience -- I mean, I was fortunate to get by him, because I feel like as I play more, the speed will come and I'll putt better as the week goes on. I just need to get by a couple of those matches when you don't light it up. You just need to be fortunate, and I was fortunate that Lee only made one birdie today.

Q. You went skiing last week. Where did you go? I know you're a good skier. Do you find that you have to lock yourself in so much, the concentration, that it really relaxes you, forgetting everything else?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, Art, I found that I needed some high-altitude physical training, so I went up to the mountains in Utah and found some snow and went at it. I love to ski, and what I've found is that as I have gotten in better shape, my cardiovascular has allowed me to ski a little bit harder, not necessisarily faster or reckless, but just a little bit harder, and I've really enjoyed that.

It was a great week to spend with my bride, and I find that it's a nice escape from golf because you're dressed up in a ski outfit, nobody recognizes you, you're skiing down the slope, nobody comes up and interrupts. It's a wonderful way to spend a few days.

Q. Why do you feel so much more confident right now in your game? Has it been the results?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it was the two things I've talked about, driving in the fairway and distance control with the irons. If you watched on TV today, most of the irons were ending up pin high. It might be a little left, a little right, but they were pin high. And driving the ball in the fairway allows me to hit those iron shots in. So it just seems to be a lot easier. It just doesn't seem to be as difficult, I guess.

Q. Would you say, generally speaking, if someone is not putting well out here, they don't advance?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not necessarily. There are a lot of ways to make birdies. Certainly putting helps. But if those putts are for par, that's another story. Fortunately, I left myself a lot of good birdie opportunities from 15 feet. That seemed to be the range where I had a number of them, and those are the ones that your speed has to be perfect on to make, and I was just a little off. The short ones I was okay on, from inside three, four feet, because the speed is not as imperative there.

Q. You talked about the fact that when you had come here before, you didn't play as well as you would have liked to. There could be a number of different reasons, including you played well but the guy you played against just played phenomenal that particular match. Your confidence level coming into this week, with everything that Joel said earlier, how much did that help you in today's match, knowing that you can get on the greens and you don't really have the speed, but it seems like you're not as worried about it as you may have been maybe a year ago when you weren't playing as well?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think the biggest thing confidence-wise heading into this week was, when I would play here years prior I had a difficult time envisioning the ball getting close to the hole because the greens are spongy and I put so much spin on it. Everything was coming back 30, 40 feet. I couldn't get to the back pins. I couldn't get to tucked pins.

Now, what I've been working at is not just distance control but spin control, too. I'm taking a lot of half swings, taking 15, 20 yards off of a shot, so I'm getting the ball in and getting it to stick around its divot, take a lot of spin off it, so the ball is staying within a yard or two of the divot, and now I'm able to get the ball pin high, especially to a lot of those back pins. That's probably why I have the most confidence coming in, because I feel like I can get my irons close to the hole.

Q. How much do you think that will help you going to the bigger events than this, the four majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think the biggest thing heading into the majors will be -- especially like the U.S. Open, will be driving the ball in the fairway. Distance control will be a factor, but in the U.S. Open the greens get to be so firm, Augusta the greens are so fast that you want the ball coming in high and soft, so I don't envision hitting many of those little half shots. At The British Open I think I will, with the wind conditions, because it keeps it down taking spin off it, too. What it does is gives me another dimension, if you will, to play well on a variety of different setups. That's what I'm hoping to get out of it anyway.

Q. You seem very enthusiastic about match play. You talk to some people, some of them dread it, and Tiger said if we had to do this every week of the year, the emotional ups and downs are so much that by the time they were 40 years old they'd be out of golf.

PHIL MICKELSON: It's tough. I love the tournament. I love the U.S. Amateur. I would personally have liked to see a slight modification, and that modification that I'd like to see is have 54 holes of stroke play and then the top eight play match play over the weekend. The reason I'd like to see that is because of a couple of things. I think it's better to have more guys play for longer.

You want to go to an event and feel like you're going to be there at least three days, and also you feel as a top player that it gives you a better chance to get into the match play portion. I don't think that will happen, but I would love to see a tournament with that format, because it just seems to combine both elements of stroke play and the match play.

Q. I noticed on 16 you didn't have any tendency to sort of fire and fall back. You were really solid on your right side. Is that the result of something you've been working on in terms of iron control?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that would equate the balance. When you fall back you tend to hit a hook, and I've been getting through the ball much better, finishing in a more balanced position, and consequently I've been hitting a lot of fades. If you noticed my driver, there have been a lot of cuts. It is different and there's much more control, and I feel like the right side is taken out of play.

Q. Are you having a hard time lining up getting used to a fade?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's been okay this year. I've only played four events, but it's been all right.

Q. The half shot arsenal, how new is that? Can you give some time frame on the evolution of that?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I started working on it about two years ago, and in 2002 I was very effective with it, and I found that last year it just wasn't coming off the way I wanted it to. It was coming off very hot or low and so forth, and consequently, I went to a ball that has a little more spin. I went back to the regular Pro V1. I love the X ball. It goes forever. It soars through the air, but those little wedges, it wasn't what I wanted. So I just went to a little softer cover, and those now wedges seem to be a little bit sharper.

Now, after saying that, I've been hitting the X ball out on the range, and they seem to be going the same as the Pro V1. So who knows, I might switch back to it next week, I couldn't tell you, but I wanted to go back to it when I was playing my best, which was 02, and try and get everything the same, which I did. Every club was basically the same as 02, and now that I'm starting to play well again I'll start going back to the X, because I've given up 16, 17 yards in driving distance statistically, so I'm not quite sure. I'll experiment a little bit more with it.

Q. Most of us know what happened last year and the problems. Are you much more enthusiastic about, say, going to the golf course now where you can't wait to get there and play, where last year you really didn't want to go because of all the problems?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think the biggest thing is last year I practiced hard, but I was working on the wrong things. I didn't see any improvement. Now I've been given a great direction with Dave Pelz on how to get better from 150 in, and Rick Smith on how to get better in driving the ball and ball striking, that when I go to the range, I feel and can see the improvement because I am able to hit shots today that three months ago I couldn't hit, and that to me is what is exciting.

Q. You always had a great short game and were a great shot-maker when you came out of college hitting the ball back and everything, why now? In other words, what happens in the evolution as you grow older? You change your game where you're not hitting the same shots as you did when you were younger?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that you're constantly trying to improve. When I first came out on Tour in 91 and 92, even though I hadn't won a tournament, found mentally I was not sound enough in my golf swing when I came out to play well and consistently week in and week out. And as things have evolved, I feel like I've been more fundamentally sound and my ball-striking has improved, my misses have diminished a little bit and I'm able to be in contention more consistently than ten years ago, and that's a slow evolution. It just takes a little time.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Phil Mickelson, thanks.

End of FastScripts.

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