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March 20, 2008

Phil Mickelson


LAURA NEAL: Thanks so much for coming in, a pretty good start to this tournament. Just tell us how things went out there.
PHIL MICKELSON: It was a good start. Ended up birdieing four holes coming in, which kind of made the round. I played okay. Was 3-under through 11 holes. I ended up doubling No. 3, drove it in the right rough and the ball shot a little right on me off my iron and caught the bank. But I was able to birdie four holes coming in and get it to 5-under, so I'm pleased with that.

Q. You seemed very dialed in with your irons on your front and just couldn't get any putts going and you seemed to be a little frustrated a few times.
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, that was certainly the case. I had a number of opportunities. At the first two holes I thought that I had hit putts on the exact line and speed that I needed to go in, and they ended up catching the lip and not dropping.
After last week's performance on the greens, it was important to get a few to go in. So my front nine, having not really made any, I made one out of eight. It was important -- it meant a lot coming in to make those four birdies because I had to make putts on all of them. The shortest one was maybe five or six feet. But I ended up making some good putts. That gives me some confidence because I knew that I could -- I have a lot of confidence on these greens. It's the same grass as TPC Sawgrass put in last year, and they just putt and track so nice that I really believe I can make a lot of putts on these greens. I just wasn't doing it early on. So to finish up making some was nice.

Q. Along those lines, is this a place where you really feel at home almost? You've played well here in the past.
PHIL MICKELSON: Not quite. I like this place a lot. I really like the golf course. I think it's a fun challenge. I like the grass around the greens and the challenge of chipping out of it. There's a lot of things I like about it. I haven't won here, so until I'm able to do that, I won't have that special feel that I have on some other courses.

Q. Could you talk about what you hit to 18 and talk about the wind? A lot of the players were saying they were surprised with the change in the direction of the wind.
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, this was by far the easiest wind for this golf course, I believe, which would be in and out of the right on No. 1. So it was down and out of the -- sorry, let me get this right. It would be in and out of the left on 1 because it would be helping out of the right on 18. That's the easiest wind. When it's helping, we can get past the corner. I had 9-iron in. I think Villegas had wedge into 18 and was able to make birdie. It's a big difference compared to the other wind.
I thought the other holes played easier with this wind, as well, with 8 being reachable. It just seemed like this was the best wind to play in.

Q. Can you talk about being a wind player? Early in your career maybe that wasn't your forte and you've really progressed to be able to hit a lot of shots in the wind now.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's been a lot of work, it really has been, to get the spin off of it, keep the ball flight down and be able to control distance in crosswinds and so forth. But I feel like I'm progressing at it. I feel like I'm getting better. I had a great practice session this morning with Butch on one of the other holes, and we were able to get dialed in a little bit on how the wind was affecting it. I thought I hit some good iron shots out there today.

Q. After last year, you seemed like you were trying to build toward Augusta. How important is it and how much are you looking forward to distancing yourself from this point last year and getting back into your rhythm?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't look at last year as a disappointment of a year. I mean, I won three times. The disappointment was my performance in the majors.

Q. That's what I meant.
PHIL MICKELSON: It was kind of offset, I thought, with the win at THE PLAYERS. That's kind of the next best thing. And the head-to-head win at the Deutsche Bank gave me some confidence heading into this year.
The biggest thing for me, though, is the changes that I started about this time last year have settled in, and I don't have to think about them now. Now it's about trying to hit shots, and I feel like my ball-striking has improved significantly.
So I'm excited now to start the majors. I feel like we had maybe a little bit of postponement as far as being able to strike it the way I want to heading into the majors, but I feel like starting at Augusta I should be ready, hopefully. That's kind of the timeline we've put on it.

Q. How did yesterday go? What did you think?
PHIL MICKELSON: It went great yesterday. The course is in great shape. The greens are very quick. They've got their jamboree coming up so they were rolling really quick just like the practice rounds do tournament week. There's more coverage of grass, I think, than there's ever been, and it's just in fabulous shape. It was windy there, so I didn't get too much work done with distance control or whatnot on the golf course. It was a different wind than we usually see, as well, but it was good to experience it.

Q. Did you get invited to the jamboree?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I didn't. I tried to get an application to join, but I couldn't find anyone around (laughter).

Q. You said something outside about trying to get better in every aspect of your game every week and peaking at Augusta. How do you gauge how you can do that and not peak too soon, or can you peak too soon?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's okay to peak early and play well, because just like in '06 when I ended up winning in Atlanta by a lot of shots, I'm able to take that momentum and go with it, so it's not a big deal if you -- to win a golf tournament. That's not what I mean by peaking.
There's kind of a point where all the work and the swing -- little adjustments and the ball position and everything just kind of blends, and you stand up on the hole and you just don't even think, you just look at the pin and you swing and the ball goes there. That's kind of the point you want to get to, but you don't want to get there until Augusta, until the week that matters.

Q. Since they lengthened Augusta, do you find yourself preparing differently for the par-5s as far as -- I bring this up because Zach Johnson didn't go for any of the par-5s last year. Do you spend more time hitting layup shots and maybe third shots into those greens that it is a little tougher for you guys to reach in two?
PHIL MICKELSON: Do I practice hitting layup shots? No. I don't like to lay up. I like to try to go for it. I know he won laying up and he played awesome, but that's not the way I play Augusta the best. I've got to go after it.
So my adjusting to the length is trying to get a driver that hits bombs (laughter). That's what --

Q. Or two drivers.
PHIL MICKELSON: That's the other thing. My second driver that we just put into play, I'm very pleased with. It went very well yesterday with it. So there's a good chance that I'll only have to use one driver and still be able to get the distance out of it that I'm looking forward to carrying bunkers like on No. 2 and No. 8 and then hit the carve cut shot off of 10 and 13.
I think we've been working on this driver now for, gosh, four or five months, and we finished it. I think after yesterday's round I'm pretty excited about the prospects of that because it allows me to have an additional club, whether it's a 3-iron that I might need on hole No. 4, or into the green on 13 or 15, or maybe another wedge for around the greens. I'm not sure.
But the fact that it looks like I'm only going to have to have one driver this year, I'll be able to hit the shots that I needed to hit like I did in '06, to fly it up on top on 17 and get the distance that I need.

Q. When you look at a leaderboard and you see that the hottest players, major championship winners, biggest names are up there, it's an attractive leaderboard. Does that have an exciting effect as a player as it does for fans, or do you try to fight that and not pay attention?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's not so much looking on the leaderboard and seeing all the top players, but I think it's coming to the tournament knowing that all the top players are here. I think that's a cool deal. I mean, we need to have more of that, whether it's having World Golf Championships events or being mandated what tournaments you have to play by the TOUR. Bringing the best players together as many times as we can is the best way for the PGA TOUR to succeed and thrive because it gives our best product. So I love as a player being able to compete against the best. And as a fan, I would love to see the best play against the best, as well.

Q. I was just curious, following up on something you said earlier this year about with Butch and the swing changes to try to keep the driver a little more in play. The statistics don't really tell you -- will tell you how many times you're putting it in the fairway. It doesn't tell you how many times you're missing by two feet. Are your misses a little less wild now as a result of kind of shortening the swing a little, or is that something you're seeing, because you can't really put a number on that?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I would have to agree with that. In LA this year, statistically I hit 57, 60 percent of the fairways, but I had six holes in one round where the ball hit the firm fairways and rolled off into the first cut or within a yard of the first cut, and to me that's just a different deal than when I'm missing it by 12 or 15 yards.
Today I hit three drives on my front nine that were in the first cut of the fairway that I thought were fine, but they ended up just kind of rolling off.
I hit a drive today on 17 where I pull hooked it way to the right. I got lucky, it was fine, I was able to get on the green and make par. But I looked at that shot, which I just couldn't believe that I had hit, this big snap hook, and I looked back and I could not remember having done that in a long time, and I used to do that a decent amount.
LAURA NEAL: Phil, thanks for your time.

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