Mickelson ‘getting old’ but he’s in weekend hunt again at Masters

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on 14  during the second round of the Masters Tournament Friday, April 12, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

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Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on 14 during the second round of the Masters Tournament Friday, April 12, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Phil Mickelson completed the 100th official round at the Masters on Friday. He’s 48-years old. He’s three shots behind the leaders after two rounds.

Mickelson did a delicate dance with those numbers after shooting 1-over 73 on Friday. He tried not to look too far ahead, acknowledged his golf mortality and expressed confidence that he can win this tournament again.

How would it feel to win at Augusta for the fourth time?

“That would be pretty cool, but that's way ahead of myself,” Mickelson said.

Does Mickelson believe he has an edge because he has more experience at Augusta than any other challenger?

“Maybe,” he said. “But you also can say time is running out.”

What would it mean to Mickelson if he becomes the oldest-ever winner of a major?

“I haven't thought of it, but I think I've got another major in me,” he said. “At least one, maybe two, and so I would love to get one right here.”

And there’s the tell. No one older than Mickelson has won a major yet he’s thinking about adding two more to make it seven in all. He may joke that 100 rounds played just means he’s “getting old” but it’s no time for Lefty to be modest when he’s lurking at the Masters.

Mickelson last won the Masters in 2010. Since then he’s had as many missed cuts (two) as top-10 finishes. Last year he followed his opening 70 with a 79 and a 74. This time he backed up his first-round 67 with a 73.

Mickelson is in good position for the weekend. He hasn’t been this close to the lead after two rounds here since he was also three strokes back in 2012. Surely Mickelson will take it, right?

“I think that I expected to be a little bit better, to be honest,” Mickelson said, and there’s that confidence again. “But there's nothing better than having a chance going into the weekend at the Masters. And that's what I want to focus on and I know that I’m playing well enough.”

Good enough to have a chance, sure. Mickelson will have to lift his level of play to win. The leaderboard above him is stuffed with of young majors champions, experienced major champions and, oh yeah, the greatest champion in the field, Tiger Woods.

Hitting half of his drives in the fairway, like Mickelson did on Friday, isn’t going to get it done. That’s the main reason he was over par on a day when 45 golfers scored par or better. Hard to go for the pin from the pine straw.

The wayward drives were the only major issue for Mickelson over two days, but it’s a big one.

“I didn't drive the ball very well today and that's going to be my whole key,” Mickelson said. “If I hit it reasonably straight I can attack a lot of holes.”

Mickelson said he likes to take big whacks with his driver because “usually the harder I swing the straighter it will go.” That didn’t work on Friday. Here’s hoping if the driver is still loose this weekend he backs off.

The feeling that he may not is rooted in Mickelson’s history. In his younger days he would step on the gas when the situation called for tapping the brakes. Big, booming drives when he needed to find the fairway. Direct attacks on tricky pins when a ball anywhere on the green would do.

Mickelson won a lot of tournaments playing that style. He also squandered a lot of chances while failing to win in his first 46 starts in majors. There admittedly was entertainment in seeing how Mickelson would find a way to lose it this time, but there was relief when he broke his drought in majors with the Masters victory in 2004.

Mickelson’s recklessness resurfaced at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open. He blew it on the final hole and declared himself “such an idiot.” A victory would have meant three straight victories in majors.

Mickelson won two more majors after that. He’s older and wiser now but, he says, not over the hill. Besides, Mickelson says Augusta is a “spiritual place” that rejuvenates him.

“I just get so excited to be here and to play and it brings back memories (of) when I was a kid and it makes me feel young,” he said.

It’s good that Mickelson feels young. It’s not good if he plays that way this weekend. I doubt it happens. Mickelson knows he doesn’t have many more chances, so I can’t see him blowing this one by taking silly risks.

Mickelson is in contention again at the Masters. He says he has another major win in him. There’s wisdom in him believing it.