Mickelson in comfort zone in Augusta

Phil Mickelson speaks with the media during a practice round prior to the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 5, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – If a blanket of tension was waiting in the wings with the Tiger Woods pre-tournament press conference, what was there to soothe the way was some comedic relief. Phil Mickelson, ladies and gentlemen, is at peace when wrapped in the Augusta National confines, and that means a Masters champ quick with the wit.

So when a reporter wanted to re-visit those days of yore, you know, back when the left-hander was “the best player never to have won a major,” Mickelson shook his head and flashed that smile that has made him the people’s choice.

“Well, that was seven years ago. You need to let that go,” Mickelson said.

Seven years ago? Yes, it has been that long since Mickelson finally broke through in a major championship. His victory on Easter Sunday at the 2004 Masters is memorable for the birdie at the 72nd hole, though what was brought up to the left-hander was an indelible memory – his impressive “vertical leap” into the air.

Again, the smile. Again, the willingness to work the room.

“The cameras did not get me at the apex,” Mickelson said. “I need to stress that. It’s not something I work on, per se, but I would venture to say that it’s hard to not get any worse.”

Perhaps had Mickelson not cashed through in 2004 and then followed up with the 2005 PGA Championship and two more green jackets he would have a frosty relationship with the media, like Woods. But that is far from the case; Mickelson has never enjoyed a better rapport with reporters, a point he referenced when extending thanks for the considerations his family was afforded during wife Amy’s and mother Mary’s struggles with breast cancer.

“It really meant a lot and gave us an emotional boost,” Mickelson said.

That was from the heart, but so much else from the interview session came from a comfort zone deep within Mickelson. At 40 and playing in his 19th Masters, Mickelson has his space in the World Golf Hall of Fame reserved and no longer does “Phil being Phil” carry a negative connotation.

Instead of so many years when press members would poke fun at Mickelson, now he goes with the flow, and is more than at ease when prodded to run with the banter. Case in point, the query about that memorable 6-iron he hit into the par-5 13th in last year’s Masters, a shot that he hit off of pine needles, around a tree, at a most crucial point? It was asked of Mickelson if he had tried that shot in practice, just for yuks, and he responded: “I didn’t see the point. I’ve already done that.”

There was good laughter, but there was plenty more where that came from.

Asked whether his caddie, Jim Mackay, had tried to talk him out of the shot, Lefty laughed. “You mean those three times?”

And later, when someone wanted Mickelson’s take on a suggestion that Augusta National was more interesting with “no rough,” the left-hander stole a glance at moderator – and club member – Ron Townsend sitting next to him and replied: “You know, we don’t have rough here. We have a first cut. Are you referring to the first cut? Is that right, Ron?”

Townsend laughed. Heck, everyone in the room laughed. It was happy hour with Mickelson.

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