Phil MIckelson, whose 2013 British Open victory catapulted him into the conversation about the best of all time, claims he is not obsessed with how historians will stack him up against the Jacks, Arnies and Tigers.
Despite his aw-shucks attitude about how he’ll go down in the annals of golf, everybody’s favorite left-handed linksman is well aware that to date he comes up short of three legends of the game in one critical category.
The aim this week for the three-time Masters champion, who, unlike his convalescing long-time rival, was able to shrug off a strained muscle and make his way to both golfers’ favorite venue, is to shrug into his fourth green jacket and go all square with Woods for Augusta bragging rights.
"I do know that Arnold [Palmer] and Tiger have four jackets and I have three," a smiling Mickelson said on Tuesday, drawing laughs from the gathered media types. "I know Jack [Nicklaus] has six, but nothing I can do about that right now. I’m just trying to get back to where the two ahead of me are."
With Woods recovering from back surgery and missing his first Masters since 1994, Mickelson has one fewer superstar golfer to beat come Sunday. But it was not the absence of the 14-time major champion from the premises that had Phil confident about his chances, but rather what was missing from his golf bag.
An inveterate golf club tinkerer, Mickelson has been known to carry two drivers, no drivers, an amped-up three wood, and any number of variations on the maximum 14 sticks the rules of golf allow caddie Jim Mackay to haul for him.
Mickelson is certainly not alone among PGA Tour pros, who mix and match clubs depending on courses and conditions. But he may be the only competitor in the field this week who will leave two of his bats in his locker.
"I don’t ever need them," Mickelson said about a sand wedge and gap wedge. "The past six or seven years I've played this tournament, I have not had a shot between 90 and 130 yards. So think about that. I have not ever had a shot between 90 and 130 yards, so I have a 40-yard gap in there. I don't ever need [the two wedges] and it allows me to put in two special clubs."
Except that Mickelson contended he was comfortable enough in the cozy confines of Augusta National to eschew even that select cudgel, though he may, just because, pack a 64-degree wedge.
"It’s just kind of one of those unique things, when the course got redesigned — I’ve never really talked about it, I don’t know why I am now — the holes that we used to hit sand wedge, gap wedge in — No. 1, No. 9, sometimes 14, sometimes 17, you just can’t know," he said. "I’m not going to play with 13 clubs, but I don’t know what that 14th club is going to be. I’ll throw one in, the sand or gap wedge in, just out of default, but I don’t ever use them here."
One other nugget of knowledge of which Phil-ologists may not have previously been aware: that "White Men Can’t Jump" bounce of bliss he performed after he won his first Masters in 2004? Don’t be fooled by what you believe you saw.
"I jumped so high, I almost hit lightning that day," he quipped with a straight face but soon dissolved into laughter. "Unfortunately the photographers, they just didn't time it right so it's a very — yeah, I felt like that was an unfair assessment of that leap because I probably could have dunked a basketball if need be."