Mickelson Preps for Masters Plays BellSouth

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DULUTH, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson's performance in the BellSouth Classic might not be as important as what he does off the course in preparation for defense of his Masters title.
 
But don't expect him to lose focus here simply because the first of this year's golf majors is a week away.
 
'I don't think so,' he said when asked about that Wednesday. 'This tournament has great practice facilities. It gives me a great opportunity to work on my game and get sharp and to not worry about what's coming up next week.'
 
But Mickelson isn't entirely putting the Masters on the back burner. He spent about 10 hours at Augusta National on Tuesday before heading back to this Atlanta suburb and shooting a 3-under 69 in Wednesday's pro-am.
 
'It went really well yesterday,' Mickelson said. 'It was fun to get down there and see the course in such great shape.'
 
Mickelson, the only one of the game's top four players in the BellSouth, had to wait to tee off Thursday along the rest of the field because rain delayed the start of the first round.
 
The other top players in the world -- Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els -- are passing on this tournament to get more practice time at Augusta.
 
But the BellSouth field is hardly weak, starting with defending champion Zach Johnson, third in his last three starts this year.
 
Also playing on the 7,293-yard, par-72 TPC at Sugarloaf are No. 5 Retief Goosen, No. 10 Stewart Cink, No. 13 Stuart Appleby and No. 15 Chris DiMarco.
 
But the spotlight will be on Mickelson, who finally won his first major last year at Augusta. He thinks he ironed out some kinks in his game after a tie for 40th place in the just-completed Players Championship.
 
'Well, I'll have a better idea after this week, I think,' the left-handed player said. 'I'm starting to play a little better and addressed an issue yesterday with the way I was driving it last week.
 
'This will be a big week for me to get momentum and get confidence in the way I've been playing. I've put a lot of time in. Now, it's time to start having it pay off.'
 
Mickelson has two wins and a second in seven starts this years and is the leading money winner at $2,753,456.
 
He also doesn't consider the field to be watered down despite the absence of Singh, Woods and Els.
 
'We have so many quality players on the tour that we have a competitive field every week no matter who plays,' Mickelson said. 'The field here is very strong,'
 
Johnson, whose only victory last year as a rookie was here, has been playing very well. His third-place finishes came at Doral, Bay Hill and in the Players Championship.

He earned $652,000 in those three events and has made $902,000 overall in nine starts this year. He'll be making his Masters debut.
 
'I feel good with where my game is at,' said Johnson, whose thoughts also are on next week. 'Just kind of a stretch where you want to get things rolling.
 
'I enjoy this course, and it's a very good one to prepare for Augusta. Although I haven't seen Augusta, I can see the resemblances. So it should be a good stepping stone to next week.'
 
Divots:
Ben Crane, a former BellSouth winner, withdrew due to injury. ... The field includes 22 players entered in next week's Masters as well as previous Masters champions Mickelson, Larry Mize and Ian Woosnam, and two-time winner Jose Maria Olazabal. ... 'I look forward to it every year. I'll just be happy to make the cut,' said European Ryder Cup captain Woosnam, who hopes to play 20-22 events this year if his back holds up.
 
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