3-time winner Phil Mickelson arrives at Masters with his game again headed in right direction



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AUGUSTA, Georgia — Phil Mickelson wants another green jacket, just not for the obvious reasons.

The prestige, cold cash and silver trophy that accompany a Masters championship — the three-time winner has all that already. The reason Lefty likely wants this latest one is that, whenever the mood struck him, he could prank every playing partner in his foursome.

"I would put it in my golf bag and if it was chilly in the morning, I would pull it out. ... I wouldn't carry three around with me, but I would say, I've got two more if you're cold," he said to laughter. "But that's just being rude.

"You've got to be careful who you say that stuff to," Mickelson added quickly. "Some people can take it, some people can't."

Mickelson arrived here on the five-year anniversary of his last Masters win, but Augusta National was also the scene of his breakthrough in the majors. His 2004 victory ended an 0-for-42 streak in the game's biggest tournaments, sparking wins in the PGA Championship and British Open to go along with those Masters triumphs.

"Winning this tournament, being a part of this championship, coming here every year to compete and try to add to that, is the greatest thing," Mickelson said. "It's what you think about in the off season when you're putting in the work in the gym at 5:30 in the morning. You don't want to be there; you think about the Masters and what you're doing it for.

"This," he said, "is what gives us the motivation."

Mickelson will need plenty to turn around what's been a rough patch — relatively speaking — in his resume. In seven events this season, he's missed two cuts and his best showing is a tie for 17th, a result he managed for the second time at last week's Houston Open. Save a runner-up finish at last year's PGA Championship, his 2014 results — including a missed cut here — weren't much better.

Mickelson acknowledged some of those troubles were the result of a letdown following his stirring 2013 British Open win.

"I could say maybe I got a little lethargic," he said. "When I started last year, I was a little hurt and my speed wasn't where it needed to be and my back was aching and consequently it led to a terrible year.

"This year in the offseason, I had a great offseason, and I'm in the best shape that I've been in. I'm able to swing the club fast again and practice without any discomfort, pain. So I feel like I've been able to put in the work and the time to get my game back. It's come around a little bit slower than I thought it would. I really thought I would start the year out on fire and it couldn't have been further from that.

"But I'm excited with what's going to happen the rest of the year. I'm excited with where I see my game going. ...It's kind of like, you have got to take baby steps."

Mickelson said the first step along that path was to play aggressively again, "getting my focus back to make birdies, and that mental intensity that's needed to be able to get at pins and play holes properly and make birdies."

That attitude was on display last week in Houston, where Mickelson led the field in birdies. But he cancelled those out with a number of loose shots that led to bogeys and worse. Lefty said the premium Augusta National places on the short game — arguably his greatest strength — should enable him to save enough pars to vault him into contention this week.

"I don't feel like (my game) needs a lot of work like it did last year. Last year I felt like there wasn't enough time to get ready. ... This time, I feel like I've done the work," he added, "and just need a little bit of fine tuning the next day and a half to get ready."

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