In-form Phil ready for Masters

2006-04-03 21:32
Augusta - Phil Mickelson's runaway victory at the BellSouth Classic will have sent a shiver down the spines of many of his rivals at this week's US Masters.

Champion at Augusta National in 2004, Mickelson blew away the field by 13 strokes at the TPC at Sugarloaf with one of the best performances of his career.

A closing seven-under-par 65 left him on an astonishing 28-under 260, an ominous sign with the American known for his ability to get on to a winning streak.

While pessimists argue that claiming a title the week before a major can be a jinx, Mickelson relishes the idea of arriving at Augusta on top of his game.

"I knew I was starting to putt well, to hit some good iron shots and starting to drive it well," the twice major champion told reporters after clinching his 28th PGA Tour title.

"It just kind of came together at Sugarloaf to some low scores. But I don't feel like this is not repeatable.

"I'm certainly not going to shoot this many under par at Augusta, that course is brutally difficult. But I should be able to play well.

"Last year I played well at Phoenix and carried over the next week into AT&T (at Pebble Beach). I expect to do the same, or I hope to do the same, at least."

Second Major

Britain's Sandy Lyle was the last player to triumph at Augusta one week after winning a PGA Tour event, claiming the 1988 Greensboro Open before going on to clinch his second major title.

Asked whether he was at all superstitious about winning the week before the Masters, Mickelson replied: "Good heavens, no.

"It was a great week at Sugarloaf, don't get me wrong, but I didn't feel like it couldn't be repeated. I feel like I'm starting to play well."

Many would argue that "starting to play well" is a massive understatement by the left-hander, who broke the BellSouth tournament record for 72 holes with the lowest total of his career.

His haul of 31 birdies for the week fell just one short of the PGA Tour best for a four-round event, held jointly by Mark Calcavecchia, at the 2001 Phoenix, and Paul Gow, at the 2001 BC Open.

Mickelson derived particular satisfaction last week from scores that matched his level of play.

Traditionally an early winner on the PGA Tour, more often than not on the West Coast swing, he was initially let down this season by his putting and chipping, despite four top-10 finishes in his first seven starts.

"It means a lot to actually have the scores reflect the way I felt I was playing," he said of his BellSouth performance. "In fact, maybe even a little bit lower."

Meticulous preparation

Known for his attention to detail and meticulous preparation for the majors, Mickelson has decided on a strategy for this week's Masters that others could follow.

With the course having been lengthened to 7 445 yards since last year's tournament, Mickelson has decided to carry two drivers in his bag at the expense of a sand wedge.

He feels sand wedges are now a luxury at the ultra-long Augusta National while specially weighted drivers, one to help him draw the ball and the other to manufacture fades, are a necessary option.

"I decided there were too many shots off the tee where I needed different distances and these drivers are different distances," he said, having taken his first look at the extended Augusta layout early last week.

"I hit a driver I hit a long ways that draws and I have a driver that fades and stays in play. It has worked out really well."

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