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March 21, 2006

Phil Mickelson


TODD BUDNICK: We thank Phil Mickelson for coming by at the 2006 PLAYERS Championship. Phil, four Top 10s in six starts this year, just talk a little about the way you feel about your game coming to this week.

PHIL MICKELSON: First of all thanks for coming in early, I know it was scheduled for two o'clock. I appreciate you coming a little earlier.

As far as my game, I've had a good couple of weeks off and spent some time this past four days in San Diego working with Dave Pelz out at the test center feel like the game is coming around.

So, I'm looking forward to this three week stretch here, and the golf course looks like it's in great shape. So it's going to be a great week and hopefully I'll be ready on Thursday to shoot a good round, but my game feels like it's coming around.

Q. Is that all that's holding you back right now do you think, putting?

PHIL MICKELSON: Actually, that feels pretty good right now, so I wouldn't

Q. Through the first

PHIL MICKELSON: Looking back on the start, now that I look at it, it wasn't the only thing. I wasn't controlling my misses and shots the way I wanted to or the way I have, and there were a couple other areas that I wanted to improve and I wasn't chipping the ball as close as I needed to. So I spent some quality time on trying to address those needs.

Q. What is it about the design of this course that seemingly brings way more players into the mix, when you can go from a Funk to an Adam Scott in consecutive years; short hitter, long hitter, seemingly excludes no one?

PHIL MICKELSON: I do think the course is a course that doesn't favor any one style of play. I think that when the rough was added and made so thick around the greens that I think it gave an advantage to the player that kept it a little bit shorter and a little bit straighter, but because the greens are small and tough to hit, there's an advantage to a guy who can hit it a little bit longer. Whoever is playing well is the guy that has the advantage.

It's not like I would say Augusta, where length is such a big factor. Here both length and accuracy can be a huge asset if you put it to good use.

Q. Along that same line, eight of the Top 10 players in the world have never won this tournament, and I don't know what the combined attempts they have had it, but I imagine it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 or whatever. Is it the course or is it the depth of the field that makes it so difficult for even the best players to not have won this tournament?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, when players have won this tournament, they were in the Top 10, Nick Price, David Duval, Greg Norman, guys were in the Top 10. It's just that we've had a younger movement of players that have stepped up and played and finished off the top five, six through ten, if you will. Why myself or Ernie or Vijay or Retief haven't played well or haven't won this tournament, it's hard to say because we've all had decent chances.

I haven't had as many chances here as I would have liked or would have thought. But why the other guys haven't played well here, I don't know. It's a course that, again, if you play well, it can suit anybody's game. I just don't know why we haven't put it together.

Q. As a follow up to that, do you think the field has something to do with it, because clearly The Masters doesn't have anywhere near as competitive a field as this tournament does, and there are other major tournaments where

PHIL MICKELSON: Is that a knock on my '04 victory there? (Laughter).

Q. No, I'm just saying that when you have virtually all the Top 50 players in the world year, you've got the course and you've got also the depth of the field that makes it difficult, too.

PHIL MICKELSON: And we don't call it a major still, either. I don't know. (Laughter).

Certainly the depth of field makes it a very difficult tournament to win. We've had some winners that we expect to wins, when Norman was playing well, when Price was dominating the way he did and he won, when Duval played so great in '99, I think that was the year he won.

And then we had some players that maybe where people would say were a surprise. We've had some interesting winners. Why that is the case, I don't know. I guess it probably is a credit to what a deep field this is and how deep the TOUR is as far as the quality of play.

Q. Getting back for a second, we were just talking about Greg Owen a minute ago, have you ever experienced anything like that in a big spot, on a stage similar to that at any level? And you said you saw it on CNN or whatever, is it difficult as a fellow player to watch something like that unfold where you can empathize?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think anybody watches it without feeling empathy for that situation. We all feel bad that that's happened.

I hope that he wins and wins soon, because he's a quality player and he's an incredibly nice guy. We played together the final round at AT&T last year, and I really enjoyed playing with him. Not only is he eight great player and ball striker, he led in fairways and greens and everything last week. He just played superb.

Unfortunately, stuff like this happens. It happens to everybody. We all have fluke putts that we have missed or shots that we haven't hit at the right times. Again I hope he wins soon, because he's really a quality player and a great guy.

Q. Is your perception of this tournament either your desire to add it to your resume, or where you think it ranks in the pecking order, has it changed since you won this two majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: As far as moving up?

Q. Your perception of this tournament and where it ranks in importance?

PHIL MICKELSON: The way I look at this tournament isn't affected by me winning a couple of majors. I think moving this tournament to May will help the quality of the tournament as far as how it's perceived, because right now, we look at it as maybe a great tournament to get ready for Masters.

And when it's on it's own, we're going to have our five biggest events spread out each month. I think that's terrific. We'll have the Masters in April, this tournament in May, U.S. Open in June, British in July and PGA in August. I love the way that those five months set up for our tour, because it puts more emphasis on the quality of this event.

Q. In terms of preparation, in terms of who comes with you and where you stay and all of the other things, what do you do differently at some of the majors that you don't do here, or what do you do differently here that you don't do at the majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: Really not too much. I came in here last year like it was a major and spent a couple days, a few weeks prior to the event and got ready for it and mapped out the course. And now I hear they are going to close it down after this year and change it all. So that kind of bites. (Laughter). I'll have to redo that.

I try to prepare for this tournament just as I do the majors, come in and spend a lot of time on the golf course and learn. I have extensive notes over the years on where to hit it, how not to, how putts break, which ones are deceptive and which ones are not. I have some good notes and I think that's why time as gone on I've played better in they haven't from when I first started.

Q. So if this is a major, we shouldn't expect to see you tomorrow?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, that's a fair assessment, yeah. (Laughter).

Q. A couple years ago Hootie Johnson talked about having a Masters Tournament ball as a possible alternative to lengthening the golf course. They have lengthened the golf course, we are still playing the same ball, where do you stand on that?

PHIL MICKELSON: As a player I'm strongly against having a uniform ball for a couple of reasons. One, I don't think that one golf ball will fit all different players. My swing characteristics and launch angle are different than somebody else's.

And the other thing is, I think it would really hurt the TOUR if we did that. What's exciting about the TOUR is coming out and watching the players do things with the golf ball that others can't. If we roll it back or have a uniform ball that goes so short, then guys come out and watch us hit it the same distance that they do and they say, oh, that's not impressive. I think it loses some of the "wow" factor of the PGA TOUR and I would hate to see that happen.

Q. Both your hot start last year and winning the PGA Championship, that part of the major season wasn't your strongest part of the year, were you at all frustrated following such a good year the year before through The Masters, U.S. and the British with your performance at that point?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'll take one in four. I'll take one in four every year, especially after my first 12 years of going 0 for 4.

To answer your question about the first three, yeah, I was a little disappointed in my play, because I had played so well in the majors in '04 and thought that or believed I had really dialed in a way to prepare to bring my best golf out for those weeks. Although I played well in the Masters, I didn't really contend. I didn't putt well and I didn't score well. And I didn't have a chance at the U.S. or British Open which was disappointing, which was why I was so pleased to be able to turn it around for the PGA.

Q. In working with Dave, are you making any changes, or just trying to get back what you had been doing?

PHIL MICKELSON: We work a lot on how to practice and what to practice as opposed to technique. I don't have recall us working on technique.

So we focused in on the areas that looked a little deficient. We spent a lot of time on bunker play; by far that was the worst area of my game at the start of this year. Whereas last year it was very good, so we spent a lot of time there. We spent a lot of time on the greens, spent a lot of time finding ways to practice short irons and so forth to bring it out when I go on the course. It's one thing to practice a lot or hit a lot of balls. It's another to have it actually carry over into my play on the course, and that's what we've been working on.

Q. As much as this is unofficially a fifth major, is it realistic to think in your lifetime it ever really would become a fifth major?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I think that nobody really thought the Western Open would not be a major and here we are and it has not been a major in decades. You just never know what will happen in time.

Aren't there five majors on the Champions Tour, is that right? So I don't think there's any magic in four majors, there can only be four majors like tennis. I think that there are four tournaments that tend to stand out with history and challenge and strength of field and so forth. This is becoming one of those. Whether we want to stick by traditions and say there's only four or not, it doesn't really matter.

Back in the early 1900s, the U.S. Amateur or British Amateur were considered majors so that's evolved to where we are today. You know, The Masters didn't start until the late 20s, early 30s. So, you know, that quickly became a very prestigious tournament. You just never know what will happen in time.

Q. Counting on you for a good answer to this. You must have been about 15 when Nicklaus won '86 Masters, I'm wondering, where you were, what you were doing and what kind of an effect that had on you as a kid.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, first of all I was 15, that's very impressive, Steve. I do remember watching that tournament at home and just couldn't believe what was happening, telling my mom, "Look at what Jack is doing" when he birdied just birdied 11. When he bogeyed 12s I thought, "Oh, goodness, come on Jack." And we were all pulling for it to happen, that 4 iron on 15 to get in. And still, Jack needed a little bit of help because Seve could easily have run away with it, as well as he was playing, and Kite was knocking on the door. It was exciting.

But I was at my house watching it. I still think that was the greatest Masters ever. That was awesome.

Q. Why do you think it struck such an emotional cord in people?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, he had not won in a while, and people were questioning his ability to win. Here he was, never even really considered a chance to contend, I think he was only 2 under starting the day and out well in front of the leaders. And to go out he only shot I think 1 under he only shot 1 under on the front, so nobody thought he was in it. I think he birdied 9 to do that. It wasn't really even a factor the way Seve and Kite and Norman were playing; it was just an amazing tournament.

Q. If at some point we were to define this as a major championship, how do you handle everything that's happened from the first one until that day? Are those major championship winners?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. That's probably a good reason as to why it won't happen. But I don't know. I mean, you're talking about record books and there's been a lot of talk about that, especially with what's been going on in baseball and some other sports. (Laughter).

So compared to others, that problem seems minute.

Q. When did you get to Augusta and what did you see?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't been to Augusta yet. I'll go there after this tournament.

Q. Next week?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, but I expect to see a lot of green grass, yeah.

Q. I've heard that.

PHIL MICKELSON: Maybe a couple of changes. (Smiling).

Q. What's been your career policy on leaderboard watching, and has that changed at all as you've gotten more experience?

PHIL MICKELSON: It really varies. I like when I'm in contention knowing what's going on, so I look for it all the time.

I've had a hard time being able to read the leaderboards on TOUR lately. They are so low that when we get galleries, you can't see them. So although I can't see a leaderboard, if I'm in contention, I might have Bones go ask a TV guy or find out who is doing what. Because as much as I'd like to see the leaderboards, and I want to know what's going on, I can't see them most of the time.

Q. The TOUR are moving to a day where there will be digital leaderboards on every hole, is that too much information?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it will be great because you have the option. You don't have to take advantage of it if you don't want to, but it's nice to have choices.

Q. I know at Doral you said you were kind of disappointed that Atlanta will not be there before The Masters, how did this tournament play into your preparation for The Masters, if at all?

PHIL MICKELSON: What do you mean, for next year when it changes?

Q. In the past.

PHIL MICKELSON: I've always played the three week stretch of the players and Atlanta and The Masters. So it's been a great stretch.

Next year it looks like the tournament that is before The Masters is not really conducive to prepare for The Masters, nor is it that way for the U.S. Open. So in an attempt to get players to add tournaments, I'm going to have to subtract two it looks like and find a better way to prepare for the majors, or another way.

Q. Monty was quoted recently as saying it's harder than ever right now to win a major because Tiger wins two, you, Ernie, Vijay or Retief will win another one, and that leaves one for everybody else. What do you think? (Laughter)

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, as long as I'm included on that list some where, I'm okay with it. (Laughter).

You know, I could see Colin's concerns, but to be honest with you, those are not really high up on my priority list. (Laughter).

Q. It's on his.

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm stealing a line from a movie I saw.

I think Colin had a very good chance at the British Open last year, and as well as he drives it, I think he's going to have a very good chance at Winged Foot. I think he'll have another great chance at the British Open this year, and I think he'll have another great chance at the PGA. And I wouldn't rule out The Masters, but I would say that that would be the least of the four, the last of the four I would say he would win. But I would not rule him out winning a major. I mean, he almost won last year.

Q. That wasn't more directed toward Monty's chances, although we wish him well, I was just curious about

PHIL MICKELSON: But again, not high up on the priority (laughter).

Q. I was looking at more from a standpoint of how it seems like this group of five of you have really separated yourself from the pack as it relates to majors and how if it's not Tiger, if it's not you, then it's Ernie, then it's Vijay and Retief, but it seems like one of you guys are usually there. Would you agree with that or disagree or what?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'd have to look at the stats. But I certainly don't mind that being the case. I mean, I like being included in that group. I like having a chance and I feel like the majors are so demanding and difficult and penalizing that if you prepare properly, if you hit the right shots and miss it properly, you know, you play the right misses, you can have a better chance of being in contention and have a better chance of winning those four tournaments than a regular TOUR event.

Can you ever imagine me saying that two years ago? No. But anyway, go ahead. (Laughter.)

Q. I'm struggling right now, actually.

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I saw you choking on those words.

Q. Another Masters question. When someone says "Amen Corner" to you, what comes to your mind?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, obviously 11, 12, 13 at Augusta. You're asking me do I cringe or what have you? The way I look at it is, if you play those three holes at even par, that's fine. But if you play them great or really well, you can play them at 1 under. You can actually play them in a couple, a few under, but I think if you play those three holes at 1 under. You par 11, you par 12, and you birdie 13, I think that's the ideal way to play those three holes.

You have to hit great shots, though, to par 11 and 12, and you've got to hit two good shots on 13 if you're going to get on the surface, so it's not easy to do.

Now that 11 is so long, if it's wet, it's going to be really tough to get to that 11th hole in two shots. And coming in with a long iron like we were doing last year and now we're going to be moved back another 15, 20 yards, I think we'll be seeing some guys hitting woods in there, unless obviously it's hard and fast. The way it played last year, we'll see some woods into 11 and that's going to be a tough hole.

Q. Anything specific, do you have a particular experience there that sticks out in your mind?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I remember about five years ago, I hit an awesome drive. I hit a hot draw around the corner, it took off down the little and I hit sand wedge in. Darn it if Hootie wasn't standing right there, and now the hole is not even close to the same. There's trees in there, it's moved back 40, 50 yards. So if I had one shot to take back, it would probably be that tee shot. (Laughter).

Q. For this tournament, do you typically have to switch out clubs, put in a sand wedge or take one out? And same for Augusta, have you historically changed your bag there and do you think you might do something different, even though you haven't seen it yet this year?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't really thought about changing my bag. I know some guys put in some rescues and so forth but the fact is that I usually hit a middle iron into 13 and 15. And 8 is really not that reachable anymore, and if it is, I've got to cut because I'm cutting my second shot it's a 3 wood all the way or driver.

So it's not like I need a rescue club, and the second hole, I usually lay up before that bunker there and I'm hitting 3 wood in anyways. So there's not that high, lofted fairway wood that people talk about that they need in there. So I don't plan on changing my bag any and I haven't in the past.

Q. Anything for this tournament?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, I really haven't, no.

Q. You probably get asked this every year here, but the 17th hole is in essence a two stroke penalty for missing the green; strength or weakness?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's been really interesting to me, and I think it's great for the tournament how when we talk about THE PLAYERS Championship, we talk about the 17th hole as the signature hole. We've seen a lot of interesting things happen on that hole, from hole in ones to hole out pars to 9s and 10s.

I remember playing in the in front of Len Mattiace when he struggled on the hole and had a chance to win. So we've had the ups and downs on that hole and it's kind of our signature hole for the event. And because of that, I love it. I think it's great. I think it's unique, it's different, it's special. It's a great challenge and always makes for an exciting finish, and you never give up because you always have the possibility of that 17th hole giving you a two or four shot swing.

With that being said, if you call it it's the one hole that I've ever seen where there's no bail out. Usually one side of the hole is trouble and the other side is playable. And that particular hole, there's no bail out. You have to hit essentially a perfect shot or miss it within a certain margin of error; that leaves the hole to be scrutinized as far as its playability. But I love it for the tournament.

Q. Since you've employed this pre major thing with Dave and Rick last couple of years, how dialed in do you feel that you are to the majors now, and how much confidence have you gained? Obviously you've won a couple, but just with that preparation?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, my confidence in the majors has gone way up obviously since winning two and believing now in my preparation. For a number of years, I was kind of searching for what worked for me.

I think that or I hope that this year is no different. I'm going to do the same type of preparation at Winged Foot and at Medinah as well as at the British Open. I'll do the same type of preparation hopefully bring my best golf out again, and I've been doing that for Augusta. Fortunately, we don't change venues at Augusta. I can use a lot of my same notes and it takes a lot less time.

Anyway, I think that having found a way to prepare and bring my best golf out certainly gives me more confidence and hope that I will continue to play well in them.

Q. Traditionally there's always been, you know, you've won at The Hope or Vijay has won in San Diego and all that kind of stuff, how important is it to have won going into these big events?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that you want to have a win to have some momentum and it have a little confidence in how you're playing, but I don't think it's critical. We see guys miss the cut the week before a major and go win the major. I don't think it's critical.

But I think that obviously it helps and it could also hurt in that it builds up expectations and you can't go in under the radar, if you will, and be able to get a lot of work done without a lot of scrutiny, if you will. But certainly, I would have liked to have won, but I'm not entering these tournaments with any less confidence because I haven't. So I guess it goes either way. But I don't think myself, Vijay or Ernie or Retief are entering these events with any less confidence because we haven't won at this point.

Q. You were talking about the ball earlier and how you would not like to see it roll back and a lot of people have been mentioning that as a possibility, but when you look at the way you hit the ball 15 years ago, if you miss hit a ball and how far off line it would go, as opposed to maybe now, do you think the balls are too forgiving, not talking distance, left/right, but do you think they need to do something to make it more of a penalty for a miss shit?

PHIL MICKELSON: So you're saying the balls were shorter and crooked?

Q. They were.

PHIL MICKELSON: They were crookeder, not at straight? They were more crooked? Interesting.

I thought that off the tee that might have more to do with the driver, more of the inner head stability, internal weighting. I kind of thought it went that route. But crooked golf balls, very interesting. I say that jokingly, but you are right to an extent. A lot of balls weren't as round and the windings when we had wound balls were not as consistent, and once you hit them, they could go out of round a little bit easier and not roll as well. But it doesn't mean that I want to make the balls not round to make the game harder. I still like I think nothing rolls like a ball. (Laughter). I'd like to keep using a round one. (Laughter).

Q. I was just wondering how your entertainment purposes only NCAA pool was going?

PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I don't know a thing about college basketball. I don't know a thing about it. I love seeing some upsets. I was watching George Mason, the coach from George Mason being interviewed, I think that's a great story. I love the upsets in the NCAA Tournament. And I like the fact that the four No. 1 seeds are still alive as well, but I don't really know enough about it to give you a good answer.

Q. I was wondering if you can talk about the dynamics of when you're in a sudden death playoff. You had a long, crazy win at Buick a few years ago with Lickliter and Love; and how many guys were in that one in Atlanta, can't even remember, almost had to use two groups. You play along, you against the golf course in theory, and you get into this thing and it's almost like match play?

PHIL MICKELSON: It could be in a one on one or two man playoff, or you have a five man playoff like we had in Atlanta, playing those guys are the last thing you're thinking about. You figure you've got to birdie 18 to just keep going in the playoff, which turned out to be the case. You try to outlast them and have them fall at the wayside. You don't just try to make an eagle out of nowhere and win it outright. You just try to outlast them. In head to head, that's when you play your opponent and try to play accordingly, you're just trying to win one hole.

TODD BUDNICK: Thank you, Phil. Good luck this week.

End of FastScripts.

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