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May 4, 2010

Phil Mickelson


CHRIS REIMER: We want to welcome Phil Mickelson to the media center at THE PLAYERS Championship, 2007 PLAYERS Champion. If you could start with some opening comments about coming back to TPC Sawgrass.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I've really come to love and appreciate the challenge that this golf course provides, and a few years ago when the course was changed to Mini Verde on the greens, it made a big difference. I think the ball rolls and tracks so much better. And the less rough as opposed to having big, thick hay, having shots that are fliers, and you're able to get up-and-down around the greens or at least have a chance has made this golf course fun as well as challenging.

Q. With the few statistical things that go around, if you win this week and Tiger is out of the Top 5, you elevate to No. 1. I just wonder if that is important to you, and if so, how so, and what would it mean?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's every player's goal and intent to strive to be recognized as the No. 1 player in the world relative to the rankings. It's certainly something that I have been striving for but have not achieved yet. And so it would mean a lot to me.
But for me to accomplish that, I can't focus on that. I've got to go out and get ready to play this golf course because it's not an easy challenge, and for me to have a chance to achieve No. 1, I've got to win. So I've got a lot of work ahead.

Q. True or false: Phil Mickelson is the most positive face of the PGA TOUR right now among its players?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know, nor do I know the relevance. But I certainly enjoy the PGA TOUR and am proud to be a part of it.

Q. The way you're playing right now and your popularity, can you see where that judgment might be made?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. Again, it's flattering for you to say that, but thank you.

Q. Does it make any -- and the possibility of becoming No. 1, obviously, players want to achieve that, but does it make any difference to you that the player that you could surpass had such a long layoff? Would you rather the scenario was going head-to-head every week, both of you peak of your game, then get to No. 1?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, again, I don't get into like how the World Rankings work or the point systems or anything like that. I know that we're using the same system and have for many years, and it would mean a lot to be recognized by that.
But, again, I'm not there yet, and I haven't ever gotten there, and I've got a lot of work if I hope to get there.

Q. There's certainly been a lot of talk this week about Tiger's possible vulnerability. Do you see it that way in your mind, or just from a golf standpoint, do you expect him to be back in full force pretty soon if not this week, soon thereafter?
PHIL MICKELSON: I have seen him hit shots that I don't know if anybody else in the world could ever possibly hit. He is an incredible player and talent, and he has one of the most impressive records, if not the most impressive record, in the history of the game. I won't ever underestimate him.
Regardless of what he did last week, knowing the type of competitor he is, I expect him to come back and be the Tiger that we are used to seeing on the golf course.

Q. Early on obviously when he was coming out you were really his main rival in terms of talent, and most people looked at you two as the guys. Now ten years later, now you really are going head-to-head. How has your relationship with him evolved over the years from what it was then to sort of closer now, not as competitive maybe?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that as I've gotten older I've come to appreciate all that he has done for the game of golf and me in particular. I've also found that I've needed him to help me get my best golf out, and he has pushed me to work harder and he has pushed me to become a better player. And I get motivated when he's back in the field.
I also feel that when he and I would play earlier on in my career, I didn't perform to my best of my abilities. And now I believe that when I'm paired with him or compete against him or with him, he gets my best golf out of me, or I find a way to play my best golf. I don't know how you want to phrase it. But I find that I need him for me to play my best.

Q. After an incredible 62 last week, Rory won the tournament. Ever find yourself when you were playing in a tournament and you looked up at the scoreboard and you were losing?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've played against Tiger a lot of years, so that has happened quite often. And it was an incredible round, you know, that Rory played. He was playing the 15th hole. And after I just birdied 14, I was only one back I felt -- in fact, I was one back as we both stood on the 15th tee. But he was two groups ahead of me and eagled and then followed it with a couple of birdies and then pulled away. I felt like I had a chance up until that point.
As we go back to the U.S. Open at Pebble, it reminds me of the best performance I think I've ever seen which was Tiger in the U.S. Open in 2000. I think that was the most impressive golf I've ever seen.

Q. Coming out of Shell this year, a lot of us weren't quite sure where you were, and in that short stretch now we're talking about you becoming world No. 1, you finishing a strong second last week to Rory, winning the Masters. How much do you feel in your own mind that your game turned around from Shell to here, and how much do you think you have now going forward? Where do you feel like you are going forward?
PHIL MICKELSON: I felt like I just needed something to click for me to get back into the flow of the round or back into scoring. I didn't feel like I was deficient in any one area of my game, but I wasn't putting it together and getting a score, which was the only thing that matters in this game.
And I was able to do that at Augusta, and it just changed the whole way I look at this year, at the game of golf and competition. Something just clicked, and I'm able to get back into shooting numbers. Whether I hit the ball well or not, I'm able to get the ball in the hole in par or better, which I feel will set up well for the rest of the year.
I'm confident obviously with where my game is headed. I've got Butch here this week, and we've been working on a couple of the areas that weren't great last week, and I think that it's starting to come together, not just for this week but hopefully for the few tournaments ahead, U.S. Open specifically.

Q. Just to follow up, you said that you've strived to be world No. 1. If you had to put it in perspective, world No. 1, U.S. Open, British Open, where would you put those?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, like -- I guess what I meant to say is that you're striving to be the best, but you don't think about trying to be -- where your World Ranking is. You don't think about how many points this is worth or that is worth.
You just strive to be the best that you can be or strive to be the best there is or whatever the case may be. And the only way to do that then is again getting back to the big tournaments. You've got to win those.

Q. I'm sorry, I want to try to understand this. Is world No. 1 as important to you as winning --
PHIL MICKELSON: You're trying to get me to itemize it, and I'm just not going to, so I talked around it. (Laughter).

Q. I'm trying to go the other way, but I need to understand --
PHIL MICKELSON: Let it go, Alex. (Laughter.)

Q. I don't do that. I'm Italian. You know how it is. As world No. 1 as important as a major?
PHIL MICKELSON: Here we go again. Let's go on to the next question.

Q. I apologize for bringing this up, but you're going to turn 40 next month. Your thoughts on turning 40, and is there a certain age that's a prime age for a golfer?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's always been said that the early 30s is kind of the prime age. However, if I look at my game today, where I was five years ago, I see a big difference. And so I feel like I still have my best golf ahead of me.
To achieve that, though, I have to make some accommodations. I've got to be -- I've got to realize that after hitting golf balls for 30-some-odd years that there's going to be a physical toll, so I've got to be aware of that. Although I haven't felt any effects, I've got to be aware of it.
I've been working with Tom Lafountain to make sure my back is healthy. Haven't had any problems, but once a month we get together and make sure that the muscles are firing correctly. Working out with Sean Cochran to make sure that physically I'm as strong as I've been and trying to shed any excess weight that I may be having to carry around. Things like that actually get more to the forefront of my head as I get older because I want to continue to play golf for many years.

Q. Thoughts off the course about turning 40 in general?
PHIL MICKELSON: Not excited about it, but it is what it is.

Q. Among other things, you've been driving the ball well. We hear a lot about how pros' drivers are set up for distance. What is it about your current driver setup that helps you be as accurate as you want to be?
PHIL MICKELSON: My driver is the same driver I used at Augusta but I altered the loft and ultimately the face angle to achieve more spin and more accuracy. So I still have had to make some adjustments.
If you paid attention at Quail Hollow, my misses were to the right last week. Well, as I open up the face, it's going to also shut, so now the miss instead of being a cut, which was what I was trying to accomplish at Augusta, hitting the ball far with being able to cut it around the corners. Now the ball is going to fall to the right, forcing me to extend down the target line a little bit better to hit a straight shot.
This, in my opinion, is going to help in accuracy and help me keep the ball in play for the tournaments that are upcoming like the U.S. Open, like here at THE PLAYERS, British PGA, where you've got to keep the ball in play.

Q. Two weeks in a row, pretty good closing three holes. Could you talk about the ones here, what it's like playing them with a lead, and maybe chasing the leader?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's an exciting finish because 16 poses eagle possibilities as well as birdie; 17 can go from 2 to 5 fairly easily; and then 18 you can make up ground with par. So it's an exciting finish.
I think that the 17th hole has built its own identity and aura, if you will. And the first time I won here in 2007 was the first year that I stopped trying to make a 2 on that hole and just accepted 3 as being a good score even though I've got a wedge in my hand. It's just a very unforgiving hole.

Q. Going back to the rivalry with Tiger, why is it do you think you've been able to perform better against him lately as opposed to earlier in your career? What do you attribute that to?
PHIL MICKELSON: There's a number of reasons. I don't want to go into it, but for the last -- starting in about 2007, I started to feel as though I was able to play my best with him, against him, and I certainly feel that way recently. I feel like it actually helps me play my best.

Q. And I just wonder if some of the specifics of why you've kind of felt that way as opposed to five years ago.
PHIL MICKELSON: There's different -- there's a number of reasons I just don't want to go into. But there has been a change.

Q. Given the harsh winter and kind of the course conditions, I've heard from a couple players that around the greens, some of the chipping areas you could get some squirrelly thin lies. Any thoughts on that?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, it reminded me a lot of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2005 when there was a very bare area around the green and a lot of sand, and you weren't able to get a wedge underneath it, and I found myself putting a lot from off the green, which I expect to do here just because you just can't get a wedge underneath the ball.

Q. To get back to talking about the course a little bit, we're coming up on 30 years of TPC Sawgrass being around. Can you talk a little bit about how the TPCs have changed the dynamic of the game and the course structure out there?
PHIL MICKELSON: I actually don't know. You tell me. You would know better.

Q. Built for tournaments, courses that are built for you guys, for tournaments in particular, has it changed anything in terms of the way courses are built these days?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I mean, maybe a course like TPC Scottsdale that can hold 150,000 people and still let everybody be able to see, I think that's a real benefit. But that would be the only area that I would see a change, I guess.

Q. For however long this happened, but when you and Amy decided to make military charities kind of like a focus, particular focus, and you're going to do a function later on today, what was the reasoning that went into that, and when you go to a military town like that do you sense that people are aware of that and are appreciative of that, especially in courses located, as we said, near a military town?
PHIL MICKELSON: At times, yes. At times I've noticed that people are aware, especially people in the military. But for us it was one of those things that we had -- it was very close to the Iraq War, and even though I wasn't in the military I wanted to do our part.
Amy and I wanted to do our part and somehow contribute to make sure that the families of the soldiers were taken care of, whether it was education for the kids, whether it was modifying their homes when they came home with injuries or amputations. We just wanted to do our part.

Q. I don't know if you saw what Westwood said last weekend. It's probably more of a European viewpoint. But he said that he thought that the WGCs had kind of risen up to where they were maybe ahead of this tournament on the totem pole. I'm wondering if your mind whether you think that's a fair assessment, or is this thing still clear-cut No. 5?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think you'll find personal -- each player will have their own personal feelings on some of that. A lot of players feel as though the fifth major is their home tournament, so wherever they live, that's their big event.
But I find that this tournament has built over the years a real credibility in the sense that the top players are coming to the top now here. The golf course is the same -- we use the same course every year just like Augusta. So you see history being made and shots being played that you can look back on over the years.
And the move to the May date, I think, has made a big impact because now we look at the TOUR schedule and we have a big event every month. As opposed to using THE PLAYERS as a warmup for the Masters two weeks prior, it now is a standalone special event. And I think that has done a lot for its credibility as a world-class event.

Q. In your practice round today, you hit a shot on 17 right-handed. What club did you use, whose club, and can you talk us through the shot and how it came up?
PHIL MICKELSON: It was Dustin Johnson's. He and I had a little contest. He was going to hit it lefty, I was going to hit it righty, and neither one of us hit the green. I at least reached the water; Dustin struggled with that. (Laughter.)

Q. Are the grooves still an impact, and do you manage the courses differently from week to week?
PHIL MICKELSON: I believe the grooves are an impact. And the place that it would be the most evident would be here at THE PLAYERS because of the Bermuda rough. When you go in the rough you're getting fliers with these grooves and with that rough. So this would be the most noticeable event for the effects that the grooves should have, of flier lies and such.

Q. Do you go in with a little bit different strategy ahead of time or manage that as you're playing and notice how it's affecting the shots?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, we just go play and try to hit fairways and get it close. I mean, you learn how to judge and play for fliers. You can still control them. It's a little tougher to get the ball stopped on the green, but you just hit the flier higher. Just hit it higher up in the air and it'll stop still.

Q. Speaking of WGCs, the policy board recently decided that the HSBC Champions would count as an official victory provided it was won by a PGA TOUR member but it's not retroactive like they did with the British Open years ago. Did anyone consult you on that, and any thoughts on that?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I just know that there were -- the reason for that was there were a number of players that were concerned that a player from another country would win the event and it would affect the Money List or the status of the 125 or the guys fighting to keep their card or whatnot. Because of that, it didn't get official TOUR status last year.
I think this year it does. I don't think it matters either way. In my opinion, it doesn't diminish the accomplishment, but it just diminishes how it's recognized.

Q. Butch has worked -- the guys that Butch has worked with in the past, going back to Greg Norman and certainly Tiger and now with you, their strongest point has been driving the ball long, driving the ball straight. Do you find that there's something about what he teaches or how he sets guys up that helps that, or were they naturally just that type of player to begin with?
PHIL MICKELSON: I certainly hope so, because that's why I went to him, so I think there's something to it. (Laughter).
I think there's something to it, and last week we did our own stats. There was 56 fairways, and 42 of them were either first cut or fairway that I was able to hit. Now, the actual fairway was a lot less. But my point is that the misses are much less. I still hit a few snaps. I still hit a few terrible shots there.
But for the most part the misses are a lot less, and so I'm keeping it inside the tree line, inside the real trouble, and that has made a big difference in the consistency of play. Even this earlier year when I wasn't playing the best, I was still not having terrible tournaments just because I was able to keep it in play more.

Q. Just one quick follow. Would you say your conditioning, your physical conditioning, is as good as it's been? You appear to be maybe the lightest I've seen you in years. Has it been an extra thing that you've done that has made you stronger?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, and if I could have one more week of food poisoning, I'll get to my target weight. (Laughter.)

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