Mickelson Looks for Second in a Row

Phil Mickelson has returned to the PGA Tour. The last time he played, you might remember, was one of those magnetic moments that drew most golf - and sports - fans to their television sets.

The newly crowned Masters champion - who enlarged his wardrobe space after winning a third green jacket - is in Charlotte, N.C., for this week's Quail Hollow Championship, a tournament that's shaping up to be one of the most intriguing of the year with 11 of the top 16 players in the world, including No. 1 Tiger Woods, on hand for the festivities.

Mickelson is finding that juggling the normal demands of fatherhood and kids - now that the conditions of his cancer-stricken wife and mother have stabilized - a part of his routine. Finding consistency, a big challenge for one of the game's always-on-the-edge players, is still a key element whenever reporters delve into what makes Mickelson one of golf's greatest players. The latest check-up came Wednesday from the Quail Hollow Club on the eve of Phil's latest Tour appearance.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Phil Mickelson into the interview room here at the Quail Hollow Championship. Phil, thanks for coming by for a few minutes. Just a couple weeks off that victory at Augusta. You can just look back at that week and then as you prepare for this week.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that was a fun, fun week. I mean, that Masters is something I'll always cherish. I had a great couple weeks thereafter, getting ready to play a little bit more golf, and I'm looking forward to playing this week. This is one of our best Tour events outside of the majors. It's in great shape, great golf course, and really looking forward to getting back.

MODERATOR: This is your seventh start here, four top 10s, I believe. What will it take to win this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's a fun golf course with a lot of risk-reward. There are a lot of holes you can make birdie on, and there are also some very difficult holes. We have some are the hardest holes out here, and that's what I love about Quail Hollow is that it has a lot of birdies, it has a lot of bogeys. The easy holes are pretty easy, the hard holes are very hard, and we get a lot of turnover on the leaderboard. Course management can be key to playing well here as well as aggressive play.

Q. Given the time off, have you been able to sort of sense how popular this victory was around the country and around the world? And is there any way to compare what this one meant to say '04?

PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I've been a little isolated, if you will, these past couple weeks back home. We've had some great, great family time with the kids and a lot of things have been going on with them, and so I've been a little bit more isolated. I haven't paid too much attention. But for me personally, it's probably the most important win that I've had, not because of having not won a major in four years or what happened at Winged Foot or anything like that, but because of the emotional tie and the tough year that we've had this past year and being able to share it. Amy and I were talking these last couple weeks about how glad we were that she was there, that the kids were there, that we could look back on that. And to have that together given what the past year has brought, it just made it probably the most special tournament win that I've had.

Q. Where are you with your game right now? I mean, obviously you must have taken some time off. Did you want to get away from it for a while, and do you feel good getting back out?

PHIL MICKELSON: When I take two weeks off, the first week I usually don't touch a club, which was the case this past time off. But for the last five, six days I've been practicing pretty hard. I feel like my game is starting to come around. I see the improvement each day, and I feel like it's back to a level close to where it was at Augusta, so I certainly have high expectations this week and next.

Q. In terms of how you played at Augusta, obviously the lead-in events you didn't really have any great finishes and then suddenly you come in and win. Do you want to get more consistency in terms of the rest of this year in results, not so much play but just results?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, I think that that's something I'm striving for. I knew that -- well, yeah, I'd like to be a little bit more consistent. I feel like I've played well this year, but I haven't put it all together. I've just kind of been middle of the pack and either haven't putted well or made too many mistakes off the tee or whatnot. But I felt like Augusta was a perfect place for it to come together, and I was fortunate that it did. And now as we look forward to the upcoming big events, the Players, the U.S. Open, British, PGA, the importance off the tee is more accuracy than it is distance. At Augusta it's about distance, and so I have done a couple of things driver-wise to add a little bit more loft, get a little bit more spin, to help the ball fly a little bit straighter, maybe not quite as far. I'm hoping that that will add to some of my -- a little bit more consistency off the tee as well as a more consistent level of play.

Q. When you look back at Augusta week with having the whole family there, as you assess things, how much of more of a sense of normalcy was it for you not having them around the previous 11 months? How much do you think that affected how well the week went for you on the golf course, and do you have plans to have them back traveling at any point coming forward?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's been a hard transition for us. It's not just Amy's treatment and so forth, but also our kids are at an age where they have so many after-school activities that it's difficult for them to travel, and so we were going to come to this crossroads, and we need to find a solution that works, and hopefully they'll be able to come out to more summer events and whatnot. It has been difficult. When I'm used to having them there every week and being able to see them and spend time, it's hard being apart.

Q. Just to follow that, when you look back on how everything went that week, obviously you played good golf, but do you think that that had an effect on how things went outside the ropes for you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, it had a big effect. I hadn't seen them in a couple of weeks, and for them to be there was -- it had a big impact, I believe, yeah.

Q. Playing off the earlier question about your consistency for the remainder of the year, are you at a point now where whatever happens for the rest of the year you can consider it a success because you won the Masters?

PHIL MICKELSON: I would say that to this point because I won the Masters the year is successful, whereas if you asked me three weeks ago it hadn't really been what I wanted. That's the one event that we seem to look forward to the entire first three months of the season. But I do have high expectations for the rest of the year, and if I'm not able to perform at that level that I played at, at Augusta in those big events, I wouldn't look at the year as being great. I feel like I've got to compete, contend and hopefully win some more later on.

Q. This place kind of looks a little like Augusta with the traps and just the way it runs. Does it play like Augusta at all?

PHIL MICKELSON: It does because the greens are very similar. They're the same grass, very similar speed, very similar slope. And I haven't been on the course yet, but last year we had first-cut rough like we had at Augusta, so you had a lot of recovery shots, and I thought with the trees being similar, I thought it had a very similar feel to Augusta.

Q. This is a tournament still going by the Quail Hollow Championship. You have an endorsement with a financial institution. Here Wells Fargo is still in the background. Is golf still getting a bad rap in the banking sectors of the world?

PHIL MICKELSON: Is golf getting a bad rap?

Q. Yes.

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know.

Q. Meaning being associated with a golf tournament if you're a bank.

PHIL MICKELSON: I know that there's a -- I know that Northern Trust, who sponsors LA Open, received some harsh criticism from Barney Frank, and after last year's event I know that they didn't want any top money. I know that they made hundreds of millions of dollars even in a rough economy, so there wasn't a stigma. They had to accept money. They increased their loan to increase 20 to 30 percent. They weren't allowed to pay the money back, and when they were, they did, and yet they got criticized, and that's been a similar scenario for many of the banks. Although Wells Fargo, I don't know the circumstances where when they acquired Wachovia, but I know a number of the banks have been unfairly attacked, yes.

Q. You took a week off after Augusta. I don't know if you do this after a big win, but do you look at any of the highlights, the shot on 13 on Sunday or the eagles on Saturday? And if you do, what was your reaction?

PHIL MICKELSON: Hmm. Yeah, I guess if you see -- if you're on the outside looking in and you see this guy in the pine needles and the trees and stuff trying to hit a shot through the trees and around the trunks and over the water, I could see somebody questioning that. But when you're in it, when you're out there in it and you see the lie and you see the shot and you see the target, it doesn't seem as daunting. But as I kind of looked back and saw some of the pictures, I was like, was it -- what was I doing? But it worked out. (Laughter.)

Q. Can you just run us through the next morning? Pretty good photo of you wearing the green jacket going to the drive-thru at Krispy Kreme, how that came to be.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, throughout the week I don't eat a lot of sugar or carbs or what have you, and my kids wanted doughnuts, and I said Monday morning we'll go to Krispy Kreme and grab some. We used to do that in San Diego on football Sunday; we'd go grab some doughnuts Sunday before the games. But Krispy Kreme went out of business in San Diego. We don't have them over there anymore. That was their big thing. They wanted to go Monday morning, so I promised them Monday morning we would. It was a little chilly, so I threw on a jacket (laughter) and went through the drive-thru.

Q. What was the order?

PHIL MICKELSON: We ended up getting just the regular glazed. That's our deal.

Q. How long before you saw that picture?

PHIL MICKELSON: I landed -- we took off, flew a couple hours after that, and when I landed, it was -- I had gotten texts and emails saying that it was all over the internet. You know, it's fascinating because it just shows how things have changed over the last 15, 20 years since I was out on Tour. When I went to college we didn't have cell phones, and since I'm out of college and out on Tour, everybody is media now. The lady behind the counter at Krispy Kreme is media, and it's an interesting thing to get used to.

Q. Your personal story has really hooked in a lot of people just talking to folks out here. A lot of women that I spoke to in particular are rooting for you given what they know what your family has been going through. Have you noticed an upswing at all in fan support either from what you've been going through and also from the Masters win?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's been -- the most flattering thing that occurred for us was last year at Colonial when there was a pink-out and the players and the tournament and the fans and spectators all supported breast cancer awareness, and my wife Amy. I think that was the most touching thing that we've ever had. That's something that I'll never forget. I don't know the difference relative to the Masters, I just know that when that happened as we were going through the thick of it and not knowing what the long-term outcome was going to be and so forth, that meant a lot to us.

Q. In past years you've been to the major venues well beforehand and done some serious homework. What are your plans this year for the three upcoming majors as far as pre-tournament visits?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I love playing the Scottish Open. I'm a little biased; Barclays sponsors it. But I love getting over there early, getting adjusted to the time, and because it's so close to St. Andrews I would imagine being able to play a few early practice rounds there. The Akron event is a wonderful event, and it's the week before PGA. It's always a great, similar setup to what we will see at a major, similar grasses, shot values. This is going to be different for me this year before the U.S. Open. Usually I like to play the week before a major, and this year I'm not before the Open for the reason that the grasses are so different and the golf course is right by my house that I'll be able to go up and get some practice rounds in the week before. So that will be a challenge for me to get my game sharp and ready on Thursday.

Q. Just sort of along those lines, two weeks after the British and before the World Golf Championship and the PGA there's a new event at the Greenbrier. Not to put you on the spot, I know you haven't committed there yet, but can you talk about what you've heard about that event, the Old White Course and so on and so forth?

PHIL MICKELSON: I've heard a lot of Sam Snead stories from that area. I know that Eric Meeks won the U.S. Amateur there back in the late '80s, I believe. I heard it's a wonderful golf course. I have actually not ever played there, but I've heard some wonderful things about the golf course and the resort.

Q. Just back on the majors for a minute. Obviously you're the only one that could possibly win a Grand Slam this year. Do those ideas come into your head? Do you look -- I know the British Open maybe hasn't been your strongest, but you look at St. Andrews and it might suit your game maybe more than other venues for the British Open. Do you look forward and start thinking, I could do this?

PHIL MICKELSON: Somewhat, but for me I finished second in the U.S. Open five times. It's a tournament -- it's my national open. Growing up here, that's a special event for me. So rather than jump ahead to other events, I really want to give myself the best opportunity in the U.S. Open. I had a good chance last year, a couple of years I've had great chances and haven't come through, and it's the one event that I'd love to win. With this tournament being at Pebble, of course I've had success at, I've played a number of times and know very well. I feel like there's a good opportunity there, and so I don't want to look past that. I want to try to get ready for that.

Q. Along those lines, when you had that really great run in '04 and came close in all four of them, how much of that was the way you were playing? How much of that was your affinity to the courses that year?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's more how I was playing, because if you're playing well, it doesn't matter what golf course you're on, you'll find a way to shoot the lowest score. I think it was more about how I was playing. But the three courses that we're at, because I've had success on it, because I've played these courses and because I have a passion for these golf courses, I feel like I'll have a great opportunity to get my best game out those weeks.

Q. I don't know if you knew this, but you're now the holder of the longest consecutive cuts made streak, which is an honor you've had before, and I'm wondering whether that speaks to consistency or anything like that.

PHIL MICKELSON: What is it, seven?

Q. It's like 19 or something. That would have been my guess. I was as surprised as you were when I saw the list. It seems as though the low lows aren't as low as they used to be and the highs are more tightly bunched.

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's attributable to the World Golf Championship events that don't have a cut (laughter.) No, I don't know where to go with that. That's not really an area that -- the cuts made is not something I ever focus on. I'm trying to get in contention. Certainly you don't have a chance on the weekend if you don't make the cut, but that's really not something that crosses my mind.

MODERATOR: Phil, thanks for coming by. Play well this week.

PHIL MICKELSON: Thanks, guys.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.