Heading into the seasons first major championship, Mickelson had already procured a PGA TOUR-leading three victories. He was tops on the money list, as well as in scoring average. And, he just happened to be the defending champion.
Mickelson hopes to be the one to beat him.
At the moment, Mickelson is still winless on the 2006 season; though, he does have four top-10 finishes in seven starts. He tied for 14th at The Players Championship, hitting three balls in the water on the par-3 17th for the week to seal his fate.
The Players was Mickelsons first tournament since the Ford Championship at Doral. He was tied with Woods for the lead entering weekend play. Woods closed in 68-69 and repeated as champion. Mickelson shot 72-73 and tied for 12th.
But in the two weeks in between Doral and Sawgrass, Mickelson said that he got together with his team ' Dave Pelz and Rick Smith ' and began in earnest his run towards Augusta.
We focused in on the areas that looked a little deficient, Mickelson said prior to the start of The Players. We spent a lot of time on bunker play; by far that was the worst area of my game at the start of this year. Whereas last year it was very good, so we spent a lot of time there. We spent a lot of time on the greens, spent a lot of time finding ways to practice short irons and so forth to bring it out when I go on the course. It's one thing to practice a lot or hit a lot of balls. It's another to have it actually carry over into my play on the course, and that's what we've been working on.
As far as his conversion rate from the sand, Mickelson was 21st on TOUR entering the 05 Masters; hes currently outside the top 180.
But thats really the only area that shows a great discrepancy between this time a year ago and now. Hes still inside the top 25 in driving distance, still outside the top 130 in driving accuracy, and inside the top 5 in putting. He even ranks higher this season in greens hit in regulation.
There is almost a stroke difference in his scoring average, but hes only once finished within five strokes of the eventual champion, so that may be the difference of only one additional victory.
That additional victory, however, could make a huge difference in relation to both confidence and momentum. Mickelson would like to repeat as champion this week to gain a little bit of both, but he doesnt seem too concerned if he doesnt.
Well, I think that you want to have a win to have some momentum and to have a little confidence in how you're playing, but I don't think it's critical, he said.
But I think that obviously it helps and it could also hurt in that it builds up expectations and you can't go in under the radar, if you will, and be able to get a lot of work done without a lot of scrutiny, if you will. But certainly, I would have liked to have won, but I'm not entering these tournaments with any less confidence because I haven't.
Mickelson plays this tournament each year as preparation for Augusta National. That wont be the case next season. Though he will likely still compete at the TPC at Sugarloaf ' he won here in 2000 as well ' the tournament will be contested May 17-20. It will remain the week after The Players Championship, which will also be transitioned, but will be played the week before the Colonial.
As the defending champion, Mickelson is obviously among the favorites on the 7,293-yard, par-72 venue. Here are five others possible contenders.
Goosen has a history of winning both big events and the week prior to big events on the PGA TOUR. He has won six times on TOUR, including two U.S. Opens and one TOUR Championship title. He has also won the 2002 BellSouth Classic, the week before the Masters; the 2003 Chrysler Championship, the week before the TOUR Championship; and the 2005 International, the week before the PGA Championship. Though he would much rather win next week, he is definitely among the favorites to do so this week. He has played this tournament five times and has a tie for third (2003) in addition to his victory.
Cink lives in Duluth and played collegiate golf at nearby Georgia Tech. He has competed in this tournament 10 times in his career and has the best record of anyone in the field who has never finished first. Cink has six top-10s, including a runner-up in 1999. He is in search of his first TOUR victory since the 2004 WGC-NEC Invitational.
Crane missed the tournament last year due to back problems, which forced him to re-work his swing. The TOURs turtle, however, has fared quite well in his last two trips around Sugarloaf. After barely making the cut, he shot 63-64 over the weekend to earn his first TOUR title here in 2003. He then tied for sixth in his title defense. Crane added to his resume by winning last years U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee upon his return to action. Hes played only five times this year, and will be looking for his first top-10 finish this week.
Glover has only twice before played this event, but he managed to tie for 10th last year. The South Carolina native is having a great start to the season, though he has yet to win. He has four top-10 finishes in nine starts and finished tied for 17th at Bay Hill after holding the 36-hole lead.
Jobe was one of the quintet of players in last year's playoff. He birdied the final hole of regulation to earn a spot in the extra session, but found water on the first hole of sudden death to tie for second. Jobe is still in search of that elusive maiden TOUR title. He has a couple of top-20s this year and has a decent record at Sugarloaf. In addition to his runner-up finish, he has two other top-25s.