- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2012

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Phil Mickelson did something he’d always wanted to do in 20 years of playing the Masters.

No, not that trek through the woods on 10, though more on that later.

Despite having the last tee time of the day, at 1:53 p.m. EDT, Mickelson was at Augusta National six hours early Thursday to watch Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit the ceremonial first shot. In his green jacket, no less.

“I’ve been wanting to do that every year, and this worked out great because I had the last tee time,” Mickelson said. “It’s an experience that I really enjoyed _ watching those guys hit it, what they have meant to the game of golf. They’re the Big Three and they brought the game to where it is. Anybody who has a chance to come to the Masters, it’s worth getting up early to watch those guys tee off.”

Seeing Mickelson on the first tee meant a lot to Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, too. The three combined to win 13 Masters among their 34 major titles.

“A nice compliment,” Nicklaus said.

“I thought it was wonderful that he came out,” Palmer added.

Mickelson called the three “charismatic,” and the same could be said about him.

After all, it’s not every golfer who could prompt a gallery to set aside their beverages and form a search party for a lost ball, as fans on No. 10 did Thursday.

Mickelson’s tee shot sailed so deep into the woods he hit a provisional before going to hunt for the original. He then spent several minutes scouring the brush and pine straw for the lost ball, joined by dozens of fans. He never did find it, using the provisional and making a triple-bogey 7 that left him at 4 over for the day.

“Throughout the round on the front nine, I hit three or four shots in spots … where I know I can’t miss it. And strategically made some mistakes,” Mickelson said. “I knew walking off the green at 4 over I wasn’t going to get them all back before the round was through. But if I could just get a couple back, I felt like I could get some back on the following day.”

Get a few back he did. He’s at 2 over after a birdie on 18, seven strokes behind Lee Westwood.

“So as poorly as I played and some of the poor shots I hit and the mishaps, missing on the wrong spot, I’m right there,” Mickelson said. “With a hot round tomorrow, I’ll get right back in it for the weekend. I know that heading in I’ve been playing well. So I’m going to fire at it tomorrow and see if I can do that.”

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HOME COOKING: Here’s one way to ease the Masters jitters: Pretend you’re at home.

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