Phil Mickelson won’t have Tiger Woods to kick around this year at Pebble Beach. But the 42-year-old winner of 41 PGA Tour events believes his four-stroke victory at last week’s Phoenix Open provided the impetus he needs to defend his National Pro-Am crown and roll into Augusta on a high.
"It's important to start building momentum [toward the April 11-April 14 Masters Tournament]," Mickelson told Golf Channel after a wire-to-wire win in which he missed breaking the PGA Tour 72-hole record for low score by just two shots. "But it's more important what you do closer to Augusta, that you start feeling confident in your game.”
There are few places Mickelson, whose Phoenix win rocketed him from No. 22 to 10th in the world rankings, would likely feel more self-assured than at Pebble Beach, where he has won four times. Lefty’s most recent W on the Monterey Peninsula came last year after he scorched Woods in the final round of the superstars’ much-hyped head-to-head battle.
Mickelson, who did not win again in 2012 after rebounding from six shots back with a closing 8-under 64, left Tiger (who finished with a 75 and nine shots back of Phil) in his dust a year ago. “The Thrill” hoped to build on the confidence he found with his new best friend, a Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver, in Scottsdale.
“I think that sets up the tone for the rest of the year, because I really started to play well,” Mickelson said. “For me, the rest of the year took a turn on Tuesday when I got my new driver. It just changed my whole deal.”
While Woods will not take part in this week’s festivities, Mickelson and two-time Pebble champion Dustin Johnson will tee it up with 154 fellow pros, including Lee Westwood, last week’s runner-up Brandt Snedeker, and (as of press time, anyway) Vijay Singh.
Singh withdrew from the Phoenix Open due to a bad back, though he was under scrutiny at the time for his admitted use of a banned substance contained in deer antler spray. Westwood, who will make his first tour start of the season, injected himself into the Singh story when he quipped last week that he believed the deer byproduct was a car wax.