Mickelson favorite to win at Augusta

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Mark Herrmann
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
— For Phil Mickelson, the best drive in golf changed a little on Tuesday. One of the 61 magnolias flanking Magnolia Lane was felled by a fierce storm Monday night after having stood for more than 100 years. “I was surprised, you know, that it wasn’t replaced in the first half-hour,” he said.

Only kidding. Some things at the Masters are simply irreplaceable, including Mickelson. He is part of the lore and the lure now, a fixture, three-time winner and defending champion. And this year, he has an extra distinction: Mickelson is the favorite.

That’s what the oddsmakers are saying, including the prestigious Ladbroke, and in between the ropes. Fellow pros think Mickelson is the one to beat, as unthinkable as it is to favor someone else during the Tiger Woods era. In fact, Martin Kaymer, the No. 1 player in the world, was asked directly which of the two is more dominant at Augusta, Woods or Mickelson, and Kaymer said, “I think Phil.”

It helps that Mickelson plays lefthanded with a natural right-to-left motion on his shots, which is an aid on many holes. “I wish I could play the other way around,” said Kaymer, who is a righty. But it also is because Mickelson had such a dominant weekend, winning the Houston Open with a strong finish.

Maybe he was able to do that because he spent the first part of the week in Augusta, preparing for what he calls “my favorite week of the year” and cruising his favorite tree-lined street.

“When I drive down Magnolia Lane, I get re-energized with the game of golf,” Mickelson said. “You know, I’ve played since I was a year-and-a-half old. I love it and have such a passion for this game. When I come here, it reminds me of that.

“I could easily forget, week in and week out playing the PGA Tour, how lucky I am to play this game. When I come back to Augusta National, I just remember how much I loved it as a kid, dreamt of playing the Tour, dreamt of playing in the Masters and winning this tournament and being a part of it.”

He forever will be a part of it because he has won three times in seven years. That run includes 2006, when he won after having won a tournament the previous week, and last year, when his whole family needed a shot in the arm for its psyche. Masters history always will include the image of Mickelson hugging his wife Amy, making her first public appearance after battling breast cancer.

“At the time, we were still right in the thick of a lot of things,” he said Tuesday. “Things have been going so much better. We are in such a better place now, that we are just really excited and appreciative.”

Mickelson prepares fastidiously, so he can appreciate Augusta National’s attention to detail. It might not be all that long before that magnolia really is replaced.

Treatment for his arthritic condition is going well, he said. He got the OK from a back specialist to swing as hard as he can, which Mickelson does at Augusta. And he had no argument with Kaymer’s envious contention that the Masters favors a lefty golfer.

“I would love,” the contented defending champion said, “for Martin to play this tournament lefthanded.”

Last updated: 5:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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