- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2011

ORLANDO, FLA. (AP) - Phil Mickelson gets to Florida and starts thinking about Georgia.

Even as he began his road to the Masters earlier this month, Mickelson already was making trips to Augusta National to start preparing for his title defense and a chance to join Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer with a fourth green jacket.

He’ll be going back again next week.

For now, Mickelson is looking for a little momentum. That’s why he decided last week to add the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to his schedule, giving him two straight tournaments _ the Houston Open next week _ before the tournament that matters the most.

“I’ve probably left this as a question mark all year, just based on how I felt and so forth,” Mickelson said Wednesday afternoon after his pro-am round. “But given that I haven’t been in contention or played the way I wanted to on the West coast, I wanted to add a tournament.”

His only time in contention was at Torrey Pines, when Bubba Watson made a birdie on the 18th hole and forced Mickelson to make eagle to get into a playoff. Mickelson _ as only he does _ had his caddie tend the flag with his wedge shot from the fairway. He missed and finished second, and hasn’t been a serious threat since then.

Bay Hill offers up another strong test, although big changes in the world order of golf have produced an anomaly: For the first time in the history of the world ranking, none of the top three players are here.

The highest-ranked player is U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, followed by Woods and Mickelson. Lefty has yet another chance to move past Woods in the world ranking for the first time in 14 years, although far removed from No. 1, it’s not all that relevant.

The Masters? That’s relevant.

Then again, so is the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which Lefty won in 1997. There are times early in the year, and especially in Florida during the road to Augusta, that he will find himself thinking about shots he could use in April. Just not this week.

“Because there’s so much water, because there’s wind, you have to flight your ball differently than you will at Augusta,” Mickelson said. “You can’t stand on the tee and bomb away, so it will be a little different. But I’ll be working on trajectory control, distance control and this course with the wind will be a good challenge to try to get that area of my game sharp.”

Woods hasn’t been sharp, either, leading to a temporary demise of the best two players of their generation.

For both, the road to the Masters has been bumpy.

For nearly two decades _ dating to 1992 _ Woods or Mickelson have won at least one tournament before Augusta National. Both are winless this year, and unless something changes the next two weeks, this will be the second straight year that neither has a PGA Tour victory before the Masters.

What’s alarming about Woods is that not only has he failed to win, he’s not even coming close. He has not finished closer than five shots from the lead since the U.S. Open last summer.

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