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May 6, 2008
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA
JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Phil, for joining us for a few minutes here in the media center at THE PLAYERS Championship, defending champion, 15th time here in Ponte Vedra Beach for the event. I don't know if you've had a chance to play the course or if you noticed anything in particular.
PHIL MICKELSON: I played today, and it's in fabulous shape. I don't think I've ever seen Bermuda greens, and I don't know what specific Bermuda that is, but it is the best greens I've seen Bermuda ever. It is in incredible shape. They're very firm and fast, balls are not stopping at all, and I think we're going to have a very difficult test on 17 getting balls to stay on that green, which is fine.
It's just tough for everybody. It's going to be how I think it was envisioned when the redesign was done, where the course was designed to play hard and fast, it will. Greens will be tough to hit; they're so small, and it will be a challenge. I like it because the short game will be an integral part of this year's test.
Q. Are the days of 24-under at this tournament over completely?
PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, yeah. I don't think it'll be anywhere near as low as it was last year. The greens are faster and firmer, and because of that, the greens being so small, they're tough to hit. They're tough to be aggressive at on the greens because the run-out, there's that extra roll-out. There's probably two feet faster on the Stimpmeter than they were last year. And also because of the firmness, the ball runs out a lot more on your approach shots, and it's difficult chipping.
Q. Having won last year, does that give something different to this tournament now?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, now it's a major, yeah. Now that I won it's a major (laughter), absolutely.
Q. Just in terms of the personal significance for you coming back.
PHIL MICKELSON: I had not played as well as I would have liked to here in years past, but having won it now; and also with I think the changes makes a big difference for me because in the past short game was not as integral an element in this tournament because the rough around the greens was so difficult that it was the same for everybody. And now there's so many mown-out areas that you can chip, you can putt, you can lob it. It's a tough challenge around the greens, but skill is a big part of it.
I look forward to this tournament every year now because my chances of being in contention and my chances of winning have gone up greatly.
Q. You're so used to seeing yourself everywhere, but as the defending champ, you're on everyone's passes and tickets. Have you noticed that walking around?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've signed a few of those.
Q. Has the reception been just a little bit different here on day one coming back?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's awkward to see your mug on tickets, but it's cool, and I certainly have always enjoyed this tournament. I think that now there's an emotional tie for me with this tournament having won last year, and I look forward to coming back. My family gets in tonight, and they're looking forward to spending time here, too.
Q. Last decade really starting with you and then through Tiger and Duval, you had guys who were winning a dozen or more times in their 20s. Now we don't see that anymore. You see some guys winning multiple times, a couple of them, I think Adam and Sergio really are leaders in the clubhouse at about six. Why do you think that is?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, those guys are now in their 30s.
Q. That's correct, but why now in this decade are we not seeing our guys in their 20s able to sustain success the way you three in particular did?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I think there's a great crop of young players that are out on TOUR. I don't know if the increased depth of talent makes it more challenging or if guys are able to play better golf later in their 30s and 40s, which is very likely given the fitness, the way that has become a big part of the TOUR since Tiger has come on board. It's really pushed fitness across the board, and you have guys like Vijay in their mid-40s who are so physically fit and they're playing some great golf. That could be a big element.
I'm not sure if it's one specific thing. But when I look at these young players in their 20s, they're all so talented. They all have so much game, and a lot of them have won this year, that I don't think it's an area of concern by any means.
Q. Why do you suppose we've had, I think three of the last four weeks it's been a 20-something-year-old, including the first major, and eight already this year? Do you see a common thread there, other than fearlessness?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, there's talent. There's good young players with a lot of talent who are out on TOUR now for a couple of years and know the courses better and know the way the -- the difference is when we came out of college the courses are so different than what we play in college, speed of the greens, rough around the greens, how closely shaved areas are around the green. It's so tight and tough to hit shots around the greens, that if you haven't done it for a few years, I think these guys are now adapting to the conditions and hitting the shots you need to hit and they're winning.
Q. When did you get comfortable? Did it take a couple years to learn the tracks?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, you never feel totally comfortable. You always feel like you're learning and improving. I think for me, though, you have to learn what works best for you as an individual for your preparation.
And after being out here now 15, 16 years, I feel as though I have a great routine that allows me to play some of my best golf. You know, I come in Tuesday night; I play the Pro-Am; I'm fresh; I'm ready to play Thursday. Some guys kind of wear themselves out early in the week overdoing it with practice, and they're not sharp when the bell rings on Thursday.
Q. Just real quick on this theme, if you had to guess right now, which Ryder Cup team is going to have more fresh faces on it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that we have had a turnover in American golf on the American team. We've had turnover the last few years. I would expect the same. I think that we've got a lot of good young players that are going to make the team this year, and I think that last year's Presidents Cup Team had a real energy boost from those young players who were energetic and enthused and motivated to play well. I think we'll have hopefully the same thing on this year's Ryder Cup team.
Q. When you look at the European dominance, do you think this is the way to crack it, with all this new blood?
PHIL MICKELSON: When you say "dominance," I think you're talking more Ryder Cup specific; right?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that it will be a big help having this new energy and enthusiasm for the event that our young players provide, yes.
Q. Do you think that relates to the enthusiasm and energy that the European teams have been showing lately?
PHIL MICKELSON: Possibly, but we still have to perform, too, so we might be excited but we still have to come out and play some good golf to win.
Q. Listening last week to the pre-tournament interview you did at Wachovia, you were asked the inevitable question about Tiger, and you gave a very interesting answer.
PHIL MICKELSON: What was the question about Tiger?
Q. Whether the TOUR missed Tiger, and you pointed out that you thought the TOUR is better off when he plays. I just wondered, am I --
PHIL MICKELSON: Am I wrong in that? Is there any possible way that I could be wrong on that (laughter)? I've been wrong about a lot of stuff, but I do believe that the TOUR is better off with Tiger.
Q. What I understood, just talking about -- guys out here, they don't talk about Tiger, do they? You come out to play golf and he's not here, or anybody else, they don't say, gee, Tiger is not here; you just go out and play your game. Do people discuss that?
PHIL MICKELSON: It wasn't a topic of conversation in the round of golf that we played today. But I think that when he's in the field, certainly that's the first thing you look at on the scoreboard, on the leaderboard, is what did Tiger shoot, where does he stand on the leaderboard. That's going to obviously be different when he's not in the field. So you don't have that thought.
When guys show up in the locker room, the first thing they do is look at the leaderboard and see where he's at, and he's usually up on top.
Q. Do you feel as good about your game right now as you did the Wednesday before or the Tuesday before last year's PLAYERS?
PHIL MICKELSON: I feel as though my game is totally different. I had been in the first month or so of working with Butch, my ball-striking has made leaps and bounds of improvements over the last 12 months. I have not had as many wins as I would have liked. I've only won once this year, and I can't look at that as being a long game problem. I have spent time on the short game and turned around.
Last week my putting was so much better. Every putt started on-line, good speed. I expect to have a great week this week because it's getting better as time goes on. When we finish here I'll spend some time with Pelz getting acclimated to the speeds and reads, and that's the area that will determine whether or how I finish in this year's event.
Q. When you show up at a tournament, is there a different feeling for you when Tiger is in the field to when he's not in the field?
PHIL MICKELSON: I really don't think about it too much. I just assume in all the big tournaments he's going to be there, so it's awkward to play at the Wachovia or to play at THE PLAYERS and not have him be in the field, but it doesn't change anything.
Q. Why do you think at this tournament it's been hard for the defending champions to play well?
PHIL MICKELSON: Until this year? (Laughter) I don't know; I have no idea.
Q. Spinning off of Steve's question a little bit about your game and where you were last year, I know you had just kind of started with Butch when you walked out of here as a winner last year. When you did walk out of here, where did you think your game was going obviously prior to the injury and all that stuff? But what were your expectations after what you did here? You talked I think a little bit afterwards about, hey, we're just getting started.
PHIL MICKELSON: I thought it would be progressing about how it has. My driving of the golf ball has been totally different. My misses have been much smaller than I had been used to, and my sight lines have been moved in tighter inside the fairway lines as opposed to starting outside. All that has changed. I'm excited about that.
I think in the effort to improve my long game, my short game has suffered a little bit. Chipping has come around to where chipping is back to the level I expect, and putting is getting there. And as soon as I put them all together, I expect to have some really good consistent play.
Q. Has Pelz been calling you up late at night saying, hey, what about me?
PHIL MICKELSON: He's been stressing the importance to put the time in on certain areas of the short game, yeah.
Q. You're an inch taller and a bunch thinner, so has that changed your golf swing, changed the shafts and the clubs? You did your putter, I know, but has it changed any of the others?
PHIL MICKELSON: Not really, but my posture has been more consistent and easier to hold throughout the swing, so that's led to a little bit more consistent ball-striking.
Q. And what kind of stretching did you do to increase your height?
PHIL MICKELSON: Just legs, low back, stuff like that. It has helped the elongation through motion. It's like a pitcher when he throws. He can't get his arms into certain positions statically when he throws a baseball. It's the same thing using motion to stretch his length. It helped of helped.
Q. What are the most difficult -- a couple or three of the most difficult greens to hit here, and which ones challenge your creativity the most?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, 17 is I would say the hardest to hit, just because there's no miss. It doesn't really challenge your creativity. If you miss it, you drop in the drop area (laughter). I think that's the most challenging because it's so penalizing, there's no bail-out. Usually if there's a bail-out, you can make an aggressive swing to a certain section and try to hit a certain half of the green.
I think that 4 becomes a tough second shot. I think the hardest green to hit is No. 2 if you're going at it in two. That's probably the most difficult to hit. But that's under regulation.
4 is tough because you're trying to hit a certain section, and with the ball not stopping as well, it's difficult, especially out of a fairway that's pretty tight and tough to hit.
Q. You mentioned consistency before. Is it the bad hole here and there that's been holding you back, like last week at Wachovia?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's been -- I haven't putted as consistently as I have throughout the year. Last week I just made a couple of dumb mistakes. It wasn't a bad finish; I finished, what, 12th. It's close to being really good. I just hope that I get that little extra something that gets me to the top.
Q. Is this the most democratic course that you play on your schedule in that it seemingly excludes no one from contending if you're playing well?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't like to get into politics. Democratic; Republican; it doesn't matter.
Q. We know you won't be out here tomorrow. Where will you be?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm going to go to one of the local courses that Glenn Cohen here has kind of set up a little game. I'm not sure which one yet; there's two or three we are looking at. We'll just go and play a nice, relaxing round. I may come out here and practice later in the afternoon and practice to get acclimated to the speed of these greens.
Q. As much as pace of play gets discussed, is there anything that could really seriously be done, and if you were commissioner for the day or the week, what would be the one thing that you would do?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's not really -- to me it's not really an issue. We just know that the first two rounds are going to be slow. It's only an issue on the weekend if we're slow. I don't think that's ever been a problem. We played four-hour rounds last week.
I don't see slow play as being that big of an issue. Thursday and Friday it will be because we have a lot of players, and it's just a fact of life. We've been talking about this since I've been a rookie on TOUR.
I don't see it as a problem. When we present the TOUR on the weekend and we present to television, we're hitting our time slots almost every time. I don't see us waiting very often unless we have a hole like a 17 at Wachovia, and even that, the wait wasn't too long. If we have a tough hole like that, there might be a little bit of a wait.
Q. What does that tell you, if you've been talking about it since 1992; is there slow play, or is it just a perception or is it just a fun topic? What does that mean that it's been discussed for a long time?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure. It's just always been something to talk about, I guess. I don't see it as much of a problem. We have times where we wait, but that's primarily Thursday and Friday. The weekends we play pretty quick.
Q. Lee Westwood in here earlier said that his preference would be to win a World Golf Championship in front of a PLAYERS. He understands some players might feel different. He figured Americans, most of them, THE PLAYERS would carry for weight with them. Do you feel that way?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think he would say that had he won a PLAYERS; and I don't think he would, either. Having won it, all of a sudden it's fifth-major status, and it's nice.
Q. I heard you were out at Torrey a couple weeks ago. Could you give us an early scouting report? How much different is the course now compared to the end of January?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's very tough. It is a very tough golf course. Primarily the biggest difference is off the fairways and around the greens, it's thicker rough, and as that kikuya grows, it's very challenging to get the club through it. It was grabbing a lot of shots.
It was funny watching some of the amateurs play. I was getting ready to tee off, and this group in front of us, probably an 8-handicap player, hit a nice drive out there, 230, he hits it in the first cut of rough, not even the thick stuff but the first cut. They could not find it and he takes a hack at it with an iron, and it dribbles a foot. He headaches a hack and it dribbles a foot, until he finally picks up and puts it in the fairway.
I just think that the biggest area of difference is off the fairway. But it will be very, I think, interesting and comical to watch that challenge of trying to break 100. There's just no way (laughter) that statistically -- numbers say, watching Pelz, you know, Pelz brought the ShotLink out to the World Amateur and had thousands of players and did all the statistical analysis on it. And a 10-handicap when they get moved back to a TOUR-caliber-distance golf courses, just yardage alone, not counting greens or the rough, shoots 92 on average. It is what it is; that's the numbers.
When you throw them in a 7,600-yard golf course, you don't even need rough; it's going to be in the 90s. You throw rough in there, you don't have the pin placements and the greens, it'll be 90 or 100. And when you throw in the pin placements and the greens, it's not even a fair challenge.
Q. How long did it take you to play that round behind that guy?
PHIL MICKELSON: Fortunately he kept dropping it in the fairway. (Laughter) He looked like Hogan hitting it from the middle of the fairway. We kept stepping on balls in the rough, and it wasn't anything nearly like what it will be. It wasn't overgrown like last year where they overgrew it and then cut it back. But that kikuya grabs the club so much that it's going to be an interesting test.
JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Phil, for joining us.
End of FastScripts