It’s been 15 years since Phil Mickelson won his first of three Masters and happily shed the title of “Best Player Without a Major Championship.”
Now, at age 48, his days as a contender winding down, Mickelson would be happy to wear a new label as “Oldest Masters Champion.”
It’s certainly a long shot. Jack Nicklaus is the oldest Masters champion; he was 46 when he won for the sixth time in 1986. Julius Boros was 48 when he won the 1948 PGA Championship, making him the oldest major champion.
But Mickelson and Augusta National have a special relationship. In 26 starts, he’s placed among the top three on nine occasions and among the top 10 on 15 tries. He tied for second in 2015. He’s been here so often that he can name the flower or shrub for which every hole is named.
“This is a place that you drive up Magnolia Lane and things just change for everyone,” Mickelson said. “You just have that special feeling. … It brings out oftentimes the best in everyone. I’m certainly hoping that’s the case this week.”
A victory would mean four green jackets, which would leave him tied for second all-time with Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods. A win would give him six major championships, which would leave him tied in 12th place with Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino.
This has been an unusual season for Mickelson. He tied for second at the Desert Classic and won at Pebble Beach for the fifth time in his career. However, in the four events since that victory, the 44th of his career in early February, Mickelson has not finished better than 37th and has missed two cuts.
But Augusta National is one of those courses where local knowledge goes a long way. Mickelson has it, too. On Friday he will play the 100th competitive round at Augusta National, a number only 22 other players have reached. He’s still learning, too.
“There’s always little subtle changes each year. Two greens usually get done a little bit, and there’s always subtleties and nuances that you have to learn,” Mickelson said. “Every time I come out here and practice, I pick up a little something here or there that I did not know on how to play a certain shot from a certain position to a certain pin.”
Mickelson was on the range early Tuesday morning before the heavy rain chased players and spectators off the course. He hit a few shots with an alignment device strapped to his wrist and began to work under the gaze of swing coach Andrew Getson, who sought refuge under an umbrella as the rain began. Mickelson was working to increase his clubhead speed. His goal is to hit it a long way.
“I think if I drive it well, my short irons, wedge play, putter will take over,” he said. “That’s kind of the hope. For me, if I drive it well, I should have a good week.”
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