October 29, 2002
TODD BUDNICK: We welcome Phil Mickelson, who is making his ninth appearance in the TOUR Championship, defending champion here at the course in his two-stroke victory over Tiger Woods in 2000.
You had a final round 9-under 63 last week. Let's talk a little about your play last week.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, everybody here looks forward to this event because we all feel that it is a reward for playing well throughout the year.
East Lake is a treat to play. Granted, it's a little wet this time around, but it's a golf course that we all love and know the history of with Bobby Jones. And to be in the Top-30 is something that every one of the players in this field takes a lot of pride in. We are very much looking forward to playing this week.
Q. Could you kind of go back on the win here in 2000? Tiger has got an outstanding record, obviously, with a 54-hole lead. Does that make it any more important, the record that he's got?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I remember at the time he and Vijay were tied for the lead, a shot ahead of me. I felt like playing in the group in front of him gave me a bit of an opportunity to get off to a quicker start and to push them to make birdies, to keep pace.
Sometimes when you're forced to make birdies to stay even, it's a lot more difficult to do it than when you have a chance to make a birdie to go ahead.
I ended up birdieing the first hole and pulled even with both of those players and put some pressure on -- I believe I shot 4-under the front nine. So that forced them to make birdies to keep pace, and that allowed me to come out on top I feel.
To end his streak was not something I was thinking about, but certainly to beat him when he is in the lead is something very difficult to do.
Q. That's kind of carried over, in a way, just from the Masters this year. There was a big stink made about the fact that everyone was trying to do too much. Is that your take on it?
PHIL MICKELSON: What do you mean, trying to do too much?
Q. Given his record, trying to throw birdies at him; Ernie got into trouble, Vijay got into trouble and you said the same thing, the only way to get him is to throw birdies at him.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, he doesn't make mistakes when he's in contention on Sunday. You look at the way we've always thought the greatest player in the game attacked a major, which was Jack Nicklaus, he always said he would wait and wait and wait and let other people fall back and he would be right there to get the trophy at the end. But that doesn't happen with Tiger anymore. He doesn't make those mistakes, so you can't just wait and wait and wait. You have to go attack and play birdies and play some exceptional golf to win championships in which he is in the field.
That was no different at Augusta. We all had to make things happen. I played a very solid round and shot 71, but because I started four or five shots behind, I was not able to make up any ground. To catch him, you have to play an exceptional round and be aggressive and have those shots be pulled off.
Q. Is it a combination of the way that they are setting up the courses and the same guy winning the majors at significant Tour events? Is it harder and harder to come from two or three shots behind more than a few years ago?
PHIL MICKELSON: I would say only against one particular player. It seems that to make up a two- or three-shot deficit on the last day against the greatest player in the game is becoming increasingly more difficult as he gets better and better, but also, as he makes fewer and fewer mistakes.
When you saw the final round of the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, here he has a huge lead and doesn't make a bogey all day. So how are you going to make up eight shots? You have to shoot 61 or 62 at Pebble Beach before the greens are bricks. It takes something exceptional to make up a few shots on him.
Q. No matter how tough the course is, you have to put the pedal to the metal?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, and look at how difficult Pebble Beach was that day. He shot, what, 10- or 12-under par for the week? You have to score exceptionally low. Keeping around par does not do it anymore.
Q. With the conditions here this week, it's going to be aggressive pretty much every day, isn't it?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes. The difficulty in the past with East Lake has been the pitch in the fairways, making it very difficult to hit; and then the ball goes in the rough and you have bunkers in front of the green that you have to carry out of the rough.
But, with the fairways being so soft, the ball no longer hits on the pitch of the fairway and kicks in the rough. It's staying in the fairway. So we are going to see a lot of birdies and we'll see some very low scores. The greens are immaculate. They are rolling true and are soft, receptive. There's not a pin that you can hide. And consequently, we are going to see some very low scores.
And you have to look at, well, about 3-under being par, and realistically, 5- or 6-under a day being about what you should expect to shoot, which would put the winning total around 20-under. I would guess around 19, 20 (-under) would win.
Q. Do you expect to have to play lift, clean and place?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah. Have you been out there at all today?
Q. It looks like it's pretty hard.
PHIL MICKELSON: I would be any surprised if it got anywhere near dry. It was playable, but it was playable at lift, clean and place. If you took casual water there was no place to drop it. But the zoysia fairways have the ball sitting high enough above the water that you could play no problem.
Q. We all know one of your strongest abilities is putting, but the fairways are soggy and you don't know whether they will dry out or not. The guys have told me that the greens are absolutely perfect. I wonder your thoughts?
PHIL MICKELSON: They are perfect and they have always been perfect here. With the softness to it, the ball seems to hold its line much better, and all you have to do is get the ball started on-line and it seems to just track it's way to the hole. You know, if a putt is going in when it's five feet away because it holds it's line all the way through the pull. We'll see a lot of putts made and a lot of birdies because the greens are soft and receptive and you can get to a lot of pins.
Q. Can you just appraise this season; what you are proud about, what may haunt you, if anything, what you want to do different in the future, if anything?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, nothing is going to haunt me. I've enjoyed this year. It's been a transitional year and a transitional year for Amy and I because it's our first year travelling with two children, which has taken us some time to adapt to the intricacies of that.
I feel like I've played well with some off-course challenges. So it's been a very fun year because we've had two children to travel with, and it's been a fun year because I've had some success. I contended very much so at the Masters, U.S. Open, and had two wins at the Chrysler Bob Hope Classic and the Greater Hartford Open. So those two wins were nice. I certainly would have liked to have won some more, so that's something I'll try to improve on.
Looking at it statistically, I think areas of greatest improvement would be probably driving the ball in the fairway a little more often, but it's difficult when I hit as many drivers as I do to really be high up in those statistics.
I feel like putting I have been consistent, again being in the top four or five. What I want to improve on is getting the ball in the fairway. So I have more chances to hit my iron shots close to the hole.
Q. At one point earlier in the year it seemed you were getting bombarded a lot with the "you're too aggressive" thing. Is that now sort of forgotten, blown over?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, it keeps being brought up (Laughter.) And that's fine. I don't have a problem --.
Q. Suddenly it's not a subject anymore.
PHIL MICKELSON: I would think that after ten years, after 25 tournaments a year, four rounds a week, a hundred competitive rounds times ten; so you've seen me play roughly 1,000 competitive rounds, and every single one of them I play aggressive and attacking. So I would think we would just come to accept it, because I certainly have.
I enjoy playing that way, and I'm not wanting or feeling that I need to change. Because, again, for me to win the two tournaments that I won, to be in contention the way I have been, I had to play that style of play.
Q. There have been 17 first-time winners on TOUR this year, including last week; What does that say about the TOUR?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that the TOUR is in a transitional state right now. When we talked about it two years ago at this tournament, when the new Titleist ball, the Pro V1 came out and we started talking about how far the ball is going, how strong the athletes are. And we are seeing that now. The younger players are physically fit, physically stronger and hitting the ball a mile with technology and getting sharp with their wedges, knocking it close and making a lot of birdies.
Look at last week, what happened with Jonathan Byrd, he was 9- or 10-under par and took it really deep to win. And that's what it is takes now.
We are seeing that from the younger guys. As the guys now in their 40s are starting to move on, they are not making the change to the new equipment, to the new style of play that's necessary, to continue to compete.
Q. Are you going to go off-campus a little bit tomorrow and go someplace else and play?
PHIL MICKELSON: I hope. Weather permitting I'll go somewhere else and practice. I'm not sure where yet.
Q. UGA guys?
PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't talked to them. I'm not sure where I'll go. I'll probably try to find some nice quiet course to hit some balls. I've been playing well. I had a chance at the start of last week to work with Rick Smith, and I felt like I progressed with how I was hitting the ball and how I was feeling about my game. So I want to work on that a little bit, just to stay sharp for Thursday's start.
Q. It looks like you are going to see every weather pattern, from balmy to cold and windy; how is that going to change the way the course will play later?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, cold and windy will make it difficult. But when the greens are soft and the fairways are soft, the scores will still be very low. The ball may not go as far, may be affected by the wind. But if it's sticking where it hits on the green we are still going to make a lot of birdies.
Q. You mentioned a couple weeks ago that your schedule next year may surprise some people. Can you shed some light?
PHIL MICKELSON: We are expecting the birth of our third child in March. That rules out THE PLAYERS Championship.
Q. For sure?
PHIL MICKELSON: 99%.
Q. That's pretty sure.
PHIL MICKELSON: Which is a tournament that obviously I love to play in.
Given that I've added tournaments here in the off-season, Tiger's tournament and the World Cup in December, that's going to delay my start on the TOUR next year until the Phoenix Open. So those are a couple of changes that haven't been normal.
And I'm not sure how many events I'll play. And with the addition of some tournaments and the subtraction of others, I'm not sure which tournaments I will play and how that will fit schedule-wise. It will be more week-to-week than having a clear-cut schedule throughout the year.
Q. Are you looking at the same number, 25 for you usually?
PHIL MICKELSON: Probably a couple less. Probably a couple less. I've played 25 to date, and I think 26 is the most I've played in any year I've been out here. I guess it would be more back to 22 or 23.
Q. Along those lines, will you stick with your plan of playing a week before the majors?
PHIL MICKELSON: I will try to with the exception of possibly Augusta. I will try to play in the BellSouth Classic which is the week before. But again with the birth, we are hoping that it comes closer to mid-March so that I'll be able to do that.
Q. Have you given any thought to the Presidents Cup?
PHIL MICKELSON: I really haven't. That's towards the end of the year, isn't it? I haven't got past the West Coast Swing really.
Q. So check back after the Skins Game and you should have it done.
PHIL MICKELSON: Check back probably after the PGA Championship. I will have a little bit better idea what I'm doing the second half the year.
Q. Which events are you playing in the off-season?
PHIL MICKELSON: Skins Game, Tiger's tournament, and the World Cup.
Q. Is it disappointing that you are not able to play it firm and fast like this course is meant to play?
PHIL MICKELSON: Not really. It doesn't matter. The way I look at it is, no matter how a course is set up, if it's soft and a lot of birdies like this week, or if it's going to be firm and very tough to get it close, like Bay Hill was this year, everybody has got to play the same course.
So, I don't feel that conditions really affect my excitement level for an event. Everybody has got to play in it.
Q. With your new gig, where does that leave Doral and the whole Florida swing? You've always done well at Bay Hill. Is the whole month of March up in the air?
PHIL MICKELSON: I believe that I will make every effort to be at the Doral event. I would say that that is probably a 95% certainty that I will be there because the due date isn't until the latter part of March. So I would expect the Ford Championship to be the final event for me until the birth and until a couple weeks after, and I will play again most likely at either the BellSouth or Masters, barring any unforeseen complications.
Q. Besides the obvious money, what does it mean to you to sign a big endorsement deal like that? Is that like approval ratings; you know you're liked and you know that you have influence?
PHIL MICKELSON: That's not how I look at it.
What I look at it is, I saw it as an opportunity to be a part of an American icon. I mean, Ford, Henry Ford was the first inventor of the automobile. Ford has become an American institution itself, and to be able to represent it is something I take a lot of pride in.
I feel a lot of patriotism,^ especially after September 11, and to represent an establishment like Ford gives me a feeling of patriotism.
Q. Are you driving a big F-150 truck?
PHIL MICKELSON: Expedition. Have you driven those things? With the rear seats you press a button and the rear seats flip up and out with a foot well. Independent rear suspension. Nice. (Laughter.)
Q. So you could pass on the Mercedes this week?
PHIL MICKELSON: That's right. I've got an Expedition, sure. And it makes it a lot nicer when you have as many kids as we have, too.
Now, were you paid by Ford to ask that: "What does it feel to be paid by an institution such as Ford"? (Laughter.)
Q. Can I give you some advice? Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. He invented the assembly line process.
PHIL MICKELSON: You're right. Thank you, Mr. Potter.
Q. You don't want to say that in front of a lot of people.
PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you very much for helping me catch that. And the founder the automobile was ...
Q. I don't know. It might have been Ransom E. Olds, I don't know.
PHIL MICKELSON: You're right, thank you.
Q. I learned that covering auto racing.
PHIL MICKELSON: I learned that in history and I forgot it, obviously. (Laughter.)
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