Phil Mickelson is nervous? At Augusta National? It seems hard to fathom, considering he’s won here three times and finished in the top five in four of the past five years. A change to this year’s PGA Tour schedule has Mickelson feeling anxious as the Masters draws near, though.
Mickelson likes to play the week before a major championship, saying that he feels less sharp when he arrives at a tournament after a week off. He last played at the Shell Houston Open, where he finished 16th. The Houston Open is traditionally played the week before the Masters, but this year the Valero Texas Open was inserted between the two events because of a quirk in the calendar. Mickelson didn’t want to play that event before the Masters, because the course is tight and susceptible to high winds. That’s the “exact opposite” of the kind of test Mickelson wanted to face before heading to Augusta National. He spent the extra time at the Masters’ site instead, practicing short-game shots and, of course, playing with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Mickelson is the last player to win the Masters after winning the previous week. That happened in 2006, when he won the Bellsouth Classic before claiming his second Masters.
“I love this tournament so much and I’m nervous because I haven’t been in competition since the Sunday of the Houston Open,” said Mickelson, who closed the Houston Open with rounds of 67-68. “It will be 10, 11 days as opposed to three, and that’s what I’m nervous about, just those opening five or six holes, being mentally tuned in.
“Now, because I’m aware of it, I’m going to work hard on it to make sure that I am, but it’s always a challenge those first five or six holes when you haven’t been in competition to be really mentally focused and sharp.”
Mickelson finished third at last year’s Masters, two shots out of the Bubba Watson-Louis Oosthuizen playoff. Mickelson’s final round was marred by a triple-bogey at the par-3 fourth hole, his second triple-bogey of the tournament.
Even though he’s been away from competition longer than he’d like, Mickelson’s familiarity with the course allows him to contend on a nearly-annual basis.
“It comes from knowing I don’t have to play perfectly to play well here,” Mickelson said. “I don’t have to hit perfect shots to make pars. There are a lot of holes here where I can make mistakes off the tee and my short game, I know I can recover. . . . It’s not like the U.S. Open where if you make one little mistake, it’s costing you one or two shots because you don’t have the ability to recover. I think that’s what’s exciting about Augusta National is the recovery shot.”
Mickelson knows that better than most.