Mickelson Full of Major Confidence

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson had his Masters week all figured out. He wanted to take a day off, sign some copies of his new book and ease into the defense of his first major championship.
 
Things didnt go exactly as planned. Mickelson spent a long Monday winning a golf tournament before making the two-hour drive down the freeway to Augusta National.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson works on his short game as he prepares for his title defense this week.
In previous years, that might have thrown him off. But Mickelson is playing with something different going into this Masters'the knowledge that he already has a green jacket.
 
It gives me some confidence and momentum going into this week, he said.
 
After struggling for years trying to win the major championship that always seemed to elude him, Mickelson returned to Augusta National with all the perks of being a champion, from the best parking spot to a reserved seat upstairs in the elite champions club.
 
He also returns with the memories of a magical Sunday when everything seemed to go right on a back nine that had been his downfall so many times before.
 
I didnt know what was going to happen, but I just really was enjoying the entire day. I enjoyed the entire back nine, Mickelson said. I was just enjoying the moment.
 
An outsider at this time last year when it came to judging the best players of the game, Mickelson is now a member of the coveted Big Four that also includes Ernie Els and fellow green jacket winners Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods.
 
He was able to dictate the menu for Tuesday nights champions dinner (lobster ravioli) and would like nothing better than to dictate the pace of this Masters.
 
Mickelson will do it with the let-it-all-hang-out style that he just cant seem to let go of.
 
Here at Augusta, I go at it as hard as I can, Mickelson said. I probably dont ever swing harder throughout the year than I do here at Augusta because it is a very long golf course and it is such an advantage to have shorter irons into these greens.
 
That advantage is one reason Mickelson and the other big hitters with pedigree loom large as favorites when the tournament begins Thursday.
 
Like Mickelson, Els, Singh and Woods will be swinging from the heels just so they have manageable second and third shots to the firm and excruciatingly fast greens that might be faster than ever this year.
 
The greens are as fast as Ive ever putted on them, Singh said. I just hope the rain doesnt come and mess that up.
 
Rain is forecast for Thursdays opening round, which could change the character of a course set up long and fast by the keepers of the green jacket.
 
If it doesnt rain, be prepared for balls bouncing over greens, putts rolling off greens and a lot of knee-knocking over 4-footers.
 
Those greens are going to be really fast and very firm, Els said. It will make accuracy into the greens really very important. Youll have to really hit your second shots very crisply. Youll have to come out of the fairways to make the balls stop on the greens.
 
The whole exercise will become tougher.
 
In the slick greens arent enough, this Masters has plenty of story lines.
 
Mickelson is back to defend the title some thought hed never win. He does it with the confidence that he came agonizingly close in the three other majors, with only five strokes separating him from the winners.
 
Singh brings the No. 1 ranking in the world and a Masters title from 2000, while Woods is showing signs he might be ready to dominate again.
 
Then theres Els, who was standing on the practice green last year when Mickelson handed him another heartbreaking loss by making the 18-footer for birdie on the 18th hole for the win.
 
I just heard the roar and I couldnt see that it was Phil, but after hearing the peoples applause and stuff, I knew it was Phil, Els said. I packed my stuff and got out of town.
 
Els doesnt mind being included among the Big Four, especially in a tournament that tends to reward the style of play shared by the quartet.
 
Hes the only one without a green jacket, but believes that could change with a bit of luck this week.
 
You know, Im going to be as positive as I can be coming into this week but Lady Luck needs to be on your side every now and again, Els said. You need to get lucky here and there, and hopefully it will happen this year.
 
Singh doesnt believe in luck as much. What he does believe is hes perfectly suited to the course, and has the confidence of holding the worlds top ranking he took from Woods last year.
 
Im pretty comfortable with the position Im in, Singh said. I should be, you know? I dont have any worries. Im enjoying my game right now. What can be better? Im here at the Masters, best player in the world right now and ready to go win another one.
 
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