Golf

Change in routine leaves Phil Mickelson uneasy about Masters

It has been Phil Mickelson's habit to play on the PGA Tour in the week before majors to sharpen his competitive edge.

That changed this season for the five-time major champion when the new tour schedule forced him to make some tough choices. Those included skipping his hometown Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and the Texas Open in San Antonio last week.

Mickelson, seeking his fourth Masters win and first since 2010, used the time off to get in four practice rounds at Augusta National last week before making a back-and-forth trip to San Diego. But he admitted Tuesday to feeling uneasy about the change in routine.

"I think that I'm just as curious as anybody," Mickelson, 48, said. "It's a chance to be fresh and ready, but it's also a chance to be maybe not as sharp. I'm just not quite sure how it's going to play out."

Mickelson's hot start to the season – a win at Pebble Beach and a playoff loss in the Desert Classic – has cooled.

The Genesis Open at Riviera was a last-minute add, but the left-hander managed only a tie for 37th. He finished T39 as the defending champion of the WGC-Mexico Championship, missed the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship, and didn't advance out of group play in the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Mickelson will reach 100 competitive rounds at Augusta in the second round Friday, but he said the work he did last week was valuable because it allows him to go through 26 years of extensive course notes.

"There's always little subtle changes each year; two greens usually get redone a little bit," said Mickelson, noting those putting surfaces this year were Nos. 5 and 18. "Every time I come out here, I pick up a little something here and there that I didn't know how to play a certain shot from a certain position to a certain pin."

Mickelson is less concerned about his short game than what he does this week with his driver. He seemed to be driving the ball well early in the season, but he's dipped to hitting only 51 percent of the fairways, which ranks extremely low (208th) on tour.

Joking that Augusta has added "hundreds or thousands of trees" in the last decade, Mickelson said, "It's not as though it's wide open. But there's enough room where you don't feel handcuffed, where you feel like you have to steer the ball.

"So I kind of let loose. If I drive the ball reasonably straight, I'm going to be fine."

Asked if he's currently driving it reasonably straight, Mickelson smiled and said, "I don't know, but I'm hitting it far, and that's all I care about right now."

Dissed by Phil

Brooks Koepka, winner of the last year's U.S. Open and PGA Championship, recalled attending the Masters with his family in the late 1990s. He managed to sneak his way to the edge of the old driving range and parking lot, and asked for Mickelson's autograph.

"He said no, and he turned me down," Koepka said. "Probably about the only kid Phil's ever turned down. He told me years later that I shouldn't have been in the parking lot. Fair enough."

When he turned pro, Koepka recounted the incident to Mickelson and they got a laugh out of it.

Said Mickelson: "When reporters ask you about stuff like that, it makes me feel old. So thank you for bringing that up."

Premier pairings

Masters favorite Rory McIlroy is set to play with Rickie Fowler and Australian Cameron Smith in the first two rounds. They tee off at 8:15 a.m. PT on Thursday.

Their group will start directly after Tiger Woods, Spain's Jon Rahm and China's Haotong Li.

Mickelson plays late on Thursday, at 10:49 a.m. PT, with Justin Rose and Justin Thomas. Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day go off in the threesome before them, and Jordan Spieth, Paul Casey and Koepka are the day's final group.

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