By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Bad weather is good news at the U.S. Masters for Phil Mickelson, who will tee it up for the 25th time at Augusta National, better prepared he thinks than most to handle whatever Mother Nature throw at the year's first major.
With gusting winds and cool temperatures in the Masters forecast the first two rounds, Mickelson expects many in the field to be blown off course.
But after three Green Jackets, 24 Masters and hundreds of rounds at Augusta National there is no storm Mickelson believes he can't weather.
"What I like most about this week is that Thursday, Friday, the weather is going to come in," a gleeful Mickelson told reporters on Tuesday. "That's going to magnify the misses for a lot of players.
"I hope to rely on that knowledge and skill to keep myself in it heading into the weekend where players less experienced with the golf course will possibly miss it in the wrong spots and shoot themselves out."
The only major staged at the same venue every year, experience matters at Augusta National Golf Club and few players have more than 46-year-old Mickelson, who made his Masters debut in 1991.
After winning the U.S. Amateur in 1990, one of Mickelson's first calls was to Arnold Palmer asking if he could play a practice round with The King at Augusta.
What followed has been a nearly three-decade learning curve that Mickelson believes can produce a fourth Green Jacket.
"I think it's become more instinctive and more intuitive for me to just know where the pins are that I'm going to play a certain way," explained Mickelson. "It doesn't require a thought process.
"I know when I'm going to try to attack and make birdies based on where the pin is, based on the wind. It's just instinctive now.
"So what that does is it frees me up to not have to analyze my game plan and management of the course but to just go play and to work on the refinement of my game, my touch and my feel."
With that experience comes extreme confidence.
Despite a slow buildup to the year's first major, Mickelson, as always, arrives at Augusta rating himself a contender.
"I do expect to play well and to compete here and come out on top more so than any golf course because of the opportunity to recover and utilize my short game to salvage pars," said Mickelson. "It's my, probably, favorite place on earth.
"I've had some good and some bad, and I look to always try to find it as we go down Magnolia Lane."
(Editing by Andrew Both)