AUGUSTA, Ga. — The last time Phil Mickelson took off the week leading up to the Masters Tournament, it didn’t turn out well.
After skipping the 2007 Houston Open, Mickelson never found his rhythm the following week at Augusta National Golf Club. He opened with 76 and closed with 77, and his tie for 24th ranks as his third-worst Masters showing since he became a fixture there in 1995.
So it might be natural for Mickelson to hold some anxious feelings Thursday after deciding not to play in last week’s Texas Open in San Antonio.
“Having that open week, I’m a little bit nervous,” Mickelson admitted Tuesday. “I love this tournament so much, and I’m nervous because I haven’t been in competition since the Sunday of the Houston Open. That’s been … it will be 10, 11 days I guess as opposed to three.”
There are few courses in the world on which Mickelson should feel more comfortable than Augusta National. The left-hander has claimed three titles (2004, 2006 and 2010) and posted 14 top-10 finishes in 20 Masters appearances.
Despite Mickelson’s concerns, his tournament performances the week leading up to the Masters haven’t necessarily served as an indicator as to how he’ll do at Augusta.
Only once, in 2006, has Mickelson followed up a pre-Masters victory with a green jacket, and two years ago he stumbled to a tie for 27th after winning at Houston. When he won the 2010 Masters, he had managed just a tie for 35th the week before.
Regardless of the history, Mickelson said the concerns mainly stemmed from his mindset at the outset of Thursday’s opening round.
“What I’m nervous about is just those first opening five or six holes, being mentally tuned in – that’s what I care about,” he said. “Now because I’m aware of it, I’m going to work hard on it to make sure that I am [tuned in], but it’s always a challenge when you haven’t been in competition to be mentally focused and sharp.”
Mickelson could have erased the nerves by simply playing last week, a slot held for several years by the Houston Open. However, the setup and weather conditions in San Antonio didn’t suit Mickelson’s eye or game leading into this week.
“I was worried watching San Antonio the last few years that it was windy and tight, which is the exact opposite of how I want to prepare for the Masters, which is not too windy,” Mickelson said. “I want to hit it long and far and not worry about accuracy as much. I want to flight the ball up in the air to get the ball soft as opposed to down to keep it out of the wind.”
The week off was hardly idle time. Mickelson spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Augusta, putting in the work he hopes will pay off with his fourth Masters title, paying particular attention to his short game.
“I got a lot of good work done and got to spend a lot of time on the golf course,” he said. “The course is very close to tournament setup, and so I’m hopeful I’ll get off to a good start and take that preparation and shoot a low score.”