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AUGUSTA, Ga. – One of the last golfers you'd expect to feel anxious heading into the Masters is three-time champion Phil Mickelson.
Yet, the creature of habit is slightly out of sorts after a change to his usual routine at the year's first major, and it's left Lefty a bit apprehensive about his first tee shot Thursday when the Masters starts.
"I'm nervous because I haven't been in competition since the Sunday of the Houston Open," Mickelson said Tuesday. "It will be 10, 11 days, I guess, and that's what I'm nervous about."
Mickelson's pre-game prep for the Masters has been rock-solid in recent years: Play in Houston and leave in a good, competitive frame of mind coming into Augusta National. In this year's PGA Tour schedule, though, the last Masters tuneup came in San Antonio at the Valero Texas Open on a layout Mickelson said was too narrow and too windy to help him at wide-open Augusta National so he arrived here this past weekend to finish off his prep work.
Mickelson worked on his putting and short-game "because that's so important," he said.
He even found time to squeeze in a round with one of Augusta National's newest members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore became the club's first two female members.
Mickelson didn't want to re-open Augusta National's former males-only heritage, saying he doesn't enjoy the politics that sometimes come with golf.
"I tried that earlier in the year," he said. "It didn't go so well, so I'm good."
In January, Mickelson created a stir by saying new federal and state tax rates kept him from being part of the San Diego Padres' new ownership group and might cause him to move away from his native California as part of "drastic changes" brought on by the political climate. He later called it a "big mistake" to take his views public.
What's there for all to see is Mickelson's love of the Masters. He earned his first of his four career major title here in 2004. He also won green jackets in 2006 and 2010 and cherishes the layout like few others on tour.
Mickelson says he's got a comfort with the layout that gives him confidence he can make a mistake and remain in contention, unlike the punishing course setups he's seen at U.S. Opens.
"I think that's what's exciting about Augusta National is the recovery shot," he said. "That's the most exciting shots in golf. One of the most exciting shots I've ever hit in my career is a recovery shot on (No.) 13 a few years ago."
Back in 2010, Mickelson seemed on the verge of major problems after his tee shot rolled into pine needles and trees on the par-5 13th hole. Instead of playing out, Mickelson hit his ball between two trees and cleared Rae's Creek to land on the green. His birdie kept momentum on his side on the way to the championship.
Mickelson says by playing the week before, he's generally more ready to attack the early holes at Augusta National.
If Mickelson can come out ready, he believes he's got the game and the tools to make another winning run. He says his redesigned driver has added distance and put him in spots on the course the 42-year-old hasn't seen in several years.
The added length has left him less clubs to use on his approach shots, an advantage the short-game wizard can't wait to bring to the course in competition.
He said his tee shots on the par-4 ninth hole have gotten to the bottom of the hill "and I haven't been able to do that in years."
Mickelson has had two top-10 finishes this year, including a victory in Phoenix. He thinks acknowledging his concerns will help him get past them over the next couple of days. Still, he's not sure and knows he won't have the answer to that until Thursday's start.
"It's always a challenge those first five or six holes," he said, "when you haven't been in competition to be really mentally focused and sharp."