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March 7, 2012

Phil Mickelson


JOHN BUSH:¬† Phil Mickelson joins us here in the interview room.¬† Phil, coming off a win and a runner‑up.¬† Talk about your preparations for your 10th start here at the Cadillac Championship.
PHIL MICKELSON:  This is really one of our strongest fields and strongest tournaments, and I think we are all excited to be here and be part of this event.  Especially as we get back here to Miami where this tournament has always had such great support.
From a player's point of view, which is a great event to challenge our games, to test ourselves and see where we are at, battling winds, battling tough conditions.  We all, also, in the back of your mind, have a place of a couple hundred miles northwest of here in Augusta that we are thinking about, too.

Q.  You have played golf with Donald Trump?
PHIL MICKELSON:  I have, yes.

Q.  How good of a golfer is he?
PHIL MICKELSON:  He's surprisingly a lot better than you would think and he's a pretty good golfer.  He understands the game.  He has a lot of speed and can hit the ball reasonably hard.  I believe he would hit a little bit of a cut, a little fade.  Decent putter.  Always has some interesting stories.  (Laughter).

Q.  By the rules?

Q.  Your last go around was Pebble, what did that do for you as you move forward, as you look toward Augusta, and the second thing is, did you have a chance to see things unfold at Honda, and just kind of comment on Rory a little bit.
PHIL MICKELSON:  As far as Pebble, that was a big week for me.  That was a big final round, because I really had not played to the level I thought I was playing in practice, and it had been a while since I had won.  It did a lot to boost my confidence.  It also gave me a lot of motivation to work hard and excitement for the upcoming events.  And I almost pulled it off again the following week at Riviera and I congratulate Bill on his great performance there in the end to win.
But as far as Rory, I didn't see the tournament last week.¬† I saw that he became No. 1 with it, and certainly he was a very worthy No. 1 golfer in the world.¬† We have not had‑‑ we have not had somebody play to the level of Tiger, and so we have four, five, six guys that are battling for the No. 1 spot it seems like monthly.¬† I don't know where it will all settle, but certainly he's a worthy No. 1.

Q.  Just a couple quick things about Augusta, I know you were there the last couple of days.  What is there still to learn about the place, you having been there so many times, and what kind of shape it?
PHIL MICKELSON:  It's in great shape as it always is.  There's more grass coverage than in years past.  Every year, two greens are redone with subtle changes, and this year those holes were 8 and 16.
After looking at them, I think that some of the more challenging pin placements on those greens were softened a little bit, and made to be not quite as difficult.¬† I don't know if ‑‑ I'm not saying it's good, bad, indifferent.¬† But there was bigger plateaus up on the top right on 16.
The green on 8 in the front was widened.  The hill on the left was softened.  So little things that I felt like the back right pin on 8 was made much more accessible.  It's much flatter, a lot more room there.  You can be a little bit more aggressive now into that pin.  So, it was interesting.

Q.  Do you think you can still put yourself in the running for No. 1 now?  You talked about the guys that are up there.  Do you feel confident that you could be part of that discussion again?
PHIL MICKELSON:¬† I think that I have not played to the level that I know I'm capable of; nor have I played‑‑ nor the level that I've played to for the number of years in the 2000s, that I don't deserve to be up there right now.¬† I need to play at that level more consistently.
But if I just play the way I did for a number of years while Tiger was dominating, I think that my points would put me up there, yeah.

Q.  Just a Masters question.  How long did it take to you get comfortable on the greens at Augusta when you started playing them, and did you do anything special to try to get ready in those years?
PHIL MICKELSON:¬† Well, it's been 41 years, and I wouldn't say that I feel comfortable on those greens.¬† I think that the more you play them and the more you trust your reads and you can put them more confidently, but you'll never feel comfortable on them, because you have to be so defensive or you're going to have three or four 5‑putts.

Q.¬† That 20‑year‑old amateur who won in Tucson, how would that fair in this competitive environment on the TOUR right now?
PHIL MICKELSON:  It's really hard to make a comparison like that, Karen, because the game is so different from when I first came out on TOUR; from equipment to the athletes, the fitness regimen, the golf course setups are so drastically different that it's really tough to tell.  I don't know how I could answer that.

Q.  Do you get a sense that the kids that age now are less fearful of competing than maybe people were back then at that age?
PHIL MICKELSON:  I think that just as an observation, I think the kids coming up today looking back from when I was early 20s to early 20s now, they are less fearful, they are very aggressive.  But they are also less complete.  They have not had the opportunity to experience different conditions, weather conditions, turf conditions; to develop a complete game.  It just takes time.  Not that they won't, because they will.  But just that's something I've noticed.

Q.  After all these years of going to the Masters and Augusta, what's it like going there a month before?  Do you still get the same little boost driving in there, even though it's still a few weeks away and you've been there so many times?
PHIL MICKELSON:  I just love playing there and there's a few courses in the world that I get excited just to go play.  And we get to play the best courses in the world in the best condition and huge events, so I get up for the events.
But Augusta National with maybe a Cypress Point, a St. Andrews, courses that I have this genuine love for, I get excited the night before just to go play it.  I try to go as much as I can to Augusta beforehand.  It gets me excited to practice and work hard.  Looking forward to the Masters as well as looking forward to Doral; I just get excited to play when I go there.

Q.  We talked about the lefty advantage thing there to some degree but why has that course been so conducive to success?  A couple of years ago, the bell went off and the light came on and you're off and running?
PHIL MICKELSON:¬† There's a ton of reasons as to why I've played well there consistently year‑in and year‑out, whether I'm sharp or not.¬† And the biggest reason is that you don't have to be perfect there.
If the average player goes out and plays Augusta National, he can play his normal game and he always has a shot.  He can be in the pine needles and the trees don't hang down to the ground.  He can be in the rough and there's no rough, it's first cut.  You always have a chance and you all have a shot.
So I'm able to get away with being less than perfect there because I can still advance the ball up by the green and rely on my short game as well as my knowledge and experience of where I can and can't go; to put the ball in the right spot and then execute the right shot around the greens to salvage pars.

Q.  Because the branches are high; is that what you're talking about?
PHIL MICKELSON:  You can always advance it forward, exactly.  I think that's the biggest reason.  But there are other factors there, too.  But I think that's the biggest one.

Q.¬† When you go through struggles on the greens putting and you try to re‑set yourself, do you go back and rely on stuff physically or mentally clear your head?
PHIL MICKELSON:  Putting is going to be a combination of both, because you're going to have to be able to see the line and roll it and see the ball go in the hole visually and so forth before you ever will putt well.  But there's also a mechanical element, too.  You have to be able to start the ball on the correct line with the right roll.
You know, people hook their putts, people cut their putts, people roll them straight, and that will change the way they read and you have to be able to sense that, just have a sense for, that because there's no one line on the green that is the correct line.  There's a couple different lines that you need to match up your speed with.  So there's a lot of elements that go into it, both mentally and physically.
So in the off‑season, I think that's where you're alluding to, where did I go, and I kind of addressed both and made sure that I was rolling the ball well before I started to address some of my visual stuff.

Q.  After Tiger finished with a 62 on Sunday, Ernie Els said, "Tiger is back."    Wonder your thoughts and assessment of where he is, especially after putting up a round like that in that situation?
PHIL MICKELSON:  Yeah, obviously he was paying attention a couple of weeks ago which is nice to see.  (Laughter).  At least I thought it was funny (indicating with hand moving above head, missing the joke).
It is go to see him back and playing well.  He's always the name that you look at.  He's the first name that you look at on the leaderboard to see how he's doing.

Q.  These would appear to be good times for the golf fan.  You just finished first and second, Tiger just shot 62, McIlroy first and second, Westwood has been close the last couple of weeks.  Talk about the state of the competitive game, but also what it means to you, whether you get more jacked up given where it is now?
PHIL MICKELSON:  I'm glad to be back in the mix, Jeff.  I'm glad to be back playing well again, and to be not just executing in practice, but to be executing back out on TOUR.  That just feels really good; to be making putts again.
This is a different year for me for one simple reason, is my putter is back.  I hit the ball great the last couple of years, and this year, I can roll it again and it feels terrific.  And I believe I'm going to make them even when I don't.  I feel good; the putter just feels good in my hands I just feel really good on the greens.  I'm just happy to be back in the mix.  I've got a lot of confidence and the biggest reason is, again, because I've got a putter back.

Q.  Are you planning on playing Bay Hill?

Q.  What is it like to go there and see Mr.Palmer and play his golf course?
PHIL MICKELSON:¬† Arnold has meant a lot to the game; Jack has meant‑lot to the game; Tiger has meant a lot to the game.¬† To go back to his event where he plays so much golf is cool.¬† I'm check there with my son.¬† It's his birthday that week.¬† We are going to ‑‑ there's so many fun things to do:¬† You have Disney World, Universal, a lot of fun‑‑ it's a family, kid‑friendly city.
So we are going to have a good time, as well as the fact that I'll be working and trying to perform well at Bay Hill but also get ready for the Masters.

Q.  What about the golf course, they made some changes, do you like what they did there?
PHIL MICKELSON:  I don't know.  I have not really seen much.  You mean they made more changes for this year?

Q.  I talked to him a couple weeks ago and he said it's more mature now.
PHIL MICKELSON:¬† I'm not really sure what those are‑‑ I know they made 4 a par 5 again.¬† I really like that.¬† I just think that I'm a proponent of making the hard holes harder and the easier holes easier.¬† 4 has always been a birdie holes, goes from one of the easiest holes on the course to one of the hardest.¬† I think that I like the way it was before, where you had birdie opportunities as well as tough pars.¬† And I think that Bay Hill provides a good mixture that.

Q.  You just played at Augusta with Keegan.  Wonder if you can share some highlights of the experience and sort of the knowledge that he gleaned from you on Augusta?
PHIL MICKELSON:  Well, there's no better way to learn and understand Augusta than to play it and experience it in the tournament conditions and to have made putts and missed putts certain ways.  You'll have that knowledge, that memory.
I don't think that you're able to really read the greens at Augusta, because you could look at a putt and see such wildly different lines.  I think the best way is to just experience it and try to use memory, as opposed to trying to just see it and read the greens.
So the more time that he spends on that golf course, the better he's going to get.  They had some good pins.  They had tournament pins all throughout the round, which I felt like we got a lot out of it.  The greens were very close to tournament speed and I thought that we got a lot out of it.

Q.  What were you most impressed with from him?
PHIL MICKELSON:  There's two things that I think I respect the most about Keegan.  One is the type of person he is.  He's fun and easy to be around.  And the other is how tough he is under the gun; how he can make a big number late in the round at PGA, put it out of his mind, and go attack and make some birdies; that he's able to focus that way and control his thoughts.
I knew at Riviera that he was going to finish strong and he was going to be a tough finisher because that's the way he's performed in the past whenever he has a chance to win and sure enough he birdies the last hole.  That's the kind of thing I expect from him on the last few holes.

Q.  Did you keep score yesterday?
PHIL MICKELSON:¬† Just 1‑up, 2‑up (laughter).

Q.  The par3, 13, how do you handle club selection and strategy, especially with the wind that's difficult here?
PHIL MICKELSON:  I love the 13th hole for the reason that it's one of the hardest holes out here and it plays that way.  If they take the hardest par 3 and move the tee up 60 yards, it's no longer the hardest hole out here.
I try to play it for par because I know so many guys are going to make bogey; I know that I can make up ground on the field if I make three there.¬† I will try to play short of the pin so the ball doesn't run over the green and I'm having an uphill second shot and I'll rely on my short game to try to get up‑and‑down.¬† I don't plan on necessarily hitting it on the surface there.¬† I plan on leaving myself the best opportunity, whether it's a putt or a chip, to make par.

Q.  And 15, comparatively short par 3 at 175, does it almost feel like a birdie opportunity?
PHIL MICKELSON:  It is, it probably is the easiest par 3 on the course and it's one that you feel like you can make birdie.  Because 17 and 18 are pretty challenging coming in, you want to take advantage of the birdie opportunities on 15 and 16 so you have to get aggressive off the tee box there.

Q.  Today the Olympic Committee announced that Gil Hanse would be the designer for 2016 over Hall of Famers like Nicklaus, Player, Norman.  You've been complimentary of his design styles in the past.  Curious your thoughts that he'll be designing?
PHIL MICKELSON:  I'm a big fan of Gil Hanse.  I think he's one of the best architects in the business.  He understands how to make a golf course playable for the average player but challenging for the good player.  He does it better than probably anyone, Crenshaw and Coore maybe being the exception.
For him to get the Olympic job, I give the Olympic Committee a real credit, a lot of credit, because, it would have been easier to go with a big name.  And instead, they went with the best.  I thought that was pretty cool.
JOHN BUSH:  We appreciate your time.  Play well this week.

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