Phil Mickelson just focused on being in contention at Masters

Credit: Curtis Compton/

Credit: Curtis Compton/

He’s half-a-hundred now, 10 years removed from his last Masters triumph, straddling the blurred line between peripheral contender and scourge of the seniors crowd.

Hitting No. 1 tee at 11:28 on Thursday, Phil Mickelson begins his 28th Masters. Somehow, he has been competing here for over half his life.

He may surprise. He was runner-up here only four years ago. Just last year, he was third after the first round with a 67.

Or he may not. He fell off the board in 2019 and finished tied for 18th. He has missed the cut twice in the last six Masters.

Mickelson is four years older than Jack Nicklaus was in 1986, when he knocked Father Time cross the head with a MacGregor Response ZT 615 putter and won his sixth Masters, 23 years removed from his first. As far historical references go, that defines Mickelson’s odds this week.

No longer does he worry about the sand he takes out of the bunker but about how much sand he has left in the hourglass.

“There’s something very spiritual about this place as a golfer and to have won this tournament means a lot to me,” he said. "I can’t believe it’s been ten years since I won it last. I would love nothing more than to have an opportunity to be in contention and that’s my goal.

“I’m not going into this event thinking about winning. I’m going into this event thinking about trying to get into contention for the weekend and then hopefully take it from there."

That may take some doing. His last PGA Tour win came at Pebble Beach 21 months ago and his 2020 has been one long pinball ride. Though he won both of his first two tries at the Champions Tour, he has only one top-10 finish in his last 20 PGA Tour events and missed the cut last week in Houston, which included a quintuple-bogey 8 (three balls in the water), his highest competitive score on a par-3.

He entered the week ranked 64th in the world. He was asked the delicate question about his ability to contend anymore.

“I don’t know,” he replied. "I think that if there’s ever a course that I was going to compete on, it would be this one. Again, you don’t have to be perfect. There’s a little bit more forgiveness off the tee and a little bit more demand around the greens. I think that a lot of times, the past knowledge and knowing where to hit it and knowing the shot that you’re going to be faced with can come into play. ...

“This course I think gives me as good a chance as any golf course and I just need to play it aggressively and execute.”

Credit: Curtis Compton/

Credit: Curtis Compton/

Even though Mickelson’s name always bubbles up when it’s time for the next major, his recent record tells a somber tale. Since winning the last of his five majors at the 2013 British Open -- he made up 8 shots with a 66 on Sunday at Muirfield to win by 3 -- he has come close perhaps three other times to winning a sixth over the subsequent seven years.

He has been runner-up three times -- 2014 PGA, 2015 Masters, 2016 British -- but has no other top-10 finishes in the past 26 majors. He also missed the cut in eight of those championships, meaning that nearly a third of the time, he has never made it to Saturday.

But he carries with him a benefit from the last Masters, when he witnessed Tiger Woods resurrect himself from a far deeper career hole and win at age 44 after he had been so largely written off. Memorable, even impossible things happen every year at Augusta National.

“I thought that it was one of the greatest feats in the history of sports,” Mickelson said. "I thought it was an incredible comeback, knowing many of the challenges he has gone through over the last few years prior to the win, and the physical and mental fortitude that it takes to come out on top in a major championship.

“The way he played, it was one of the greatest feats, I think, of all time. I was really happy for him and happy to see him do that. And also I think it provides a little bit of inspiration for a lot of us.”