For anyone that has ever stepped foot on Augusta National, you know the special feelings you get that even as a golf fan you never expected. The golf course, the history, the long walk past the 18th green down towards the most famous Corner in golf, to check out holes you’ve dreamed about your entire life. Those same feelings can come over a player that has been doing this for decades.
Enter Phil Mickelson, the three-time Masters champion and default biggest draw this week at Augusta National after a certain someone pulled out because of back surgery. Mickelson is the modern day Jack Nicklaus at Augusta, knowing that this golf course and this week set up as well for him as any all year, and he knows when he departs Augusta on Sunday night without a green jacket, his year will end a little less special.
Over the last 10 years, Mickelson has taken that outward drive on Magnolia Lane wearing green three times, and while the expectations might be slightly diluted this week because of his recent play and injuries, his outlook on this tournament stays the same, especially with it being 10 years since his first Masters victory.
"I just love everything about this tournament. I love what it stands for. I just can't believe that I get to come back every year. That win ten years ago, it just propelled me. I knew once I won one, I really felt confident I would win a few, but I needed to get that first one, and that was a big one."
Now Phil is only chasing history, knowing that his next Masters victory, whenever it comes, will tie him with Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods for second all-time at Augusta.
"I do know that Arnold and Tiger have four jackets and I have three. I know Jack has six, but nothing I can do about that right now. I'm just trying to get back to where the two ahead of me are (laughter)."
And even Phil knows that this week will be a little different than Masters of the past.
Without Tiger in the field, spectators might get a different feeling watching the telecast or roaming the grounds of Augusta National, and that feeling is no different for the second biggest draw in professional golf.
"Yeah, it's disappointing. It's a weird feeling not having him here, isn't it? He's been such a mainstay in professional golf and in the Majors. It's awkward to not have him here. I hope he gets back soon. I mean, I hope he's back for the other Majors, and as much as I want to win and I know how great he is and tough to beat, it also makes it ‑‑ it makes it special when he's in the field and you're able to win."
As for Phil himself, it's a week that he even admits makes him nervous because of the year he’s had so far and the struggles he’s had to stay healthy.
"I said last week that I'm nervous, and I am nervous. I'm nervous about this week because I always like coming into this week with a win. I like coming into this week being in contention a few times and having that confidence and experience to build on. But I have to give myself a little bit of slack, because I have not been 100 percent. Last week I was 100 percent."
For Mickelson, Augusta National is not a place he has to be 100 percent for 72 holes, like a U.S. Open, but to add another green jacket to his collection it will mean the short putts have to drop and his early rounds have to be consistent.
That has been the recipe in the past, and if Mickelson hopes to have another fine finish this week at the Masters, it will mean a week of pain-free golf swings and great touch around the greens. Lucky for Phil, he knows a thing or two about the latter, and his history here will only help to bring those positive thoughts out when he hits that first tee shot on Thursday as the opening major of the year gets underway.
All quotes courtesy of ASAP Sports