By Amy Tennery
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – After 26 Masters appearances, it is hard to catch three-time champion Phil Mickelson off guard even with a revamped fifth hole that has been the talk of Augusta National this week.
Steely play may be in order at the redesigned Magnolia, where the tee has been moved back 40 yards, but Mickelson told reporters on Tuesday that he was taking it in his stride.
“I think 4, 5, 6, 7 is a very difficult four-hole stretch and making it a little bit harder I think is a good thing,” Mickelson said. “I always like making hard holes harder.”
Experience on the difficult greens is something Mickelson can rely on to help snag a Green Jacket for the fourth time, with his 100th career round at the Masters slated for Friday.
“There are always little subtleties and nuances that you have to relearn,” he said.
“Every time I come out here and practise, I pick up a little something here or there that I did not know on how to play a certain shot from a certain position to a certain pin.”
If he can secure victory, it will be by defying the odds. Mickelson, who will turn 49 in June, is roughly two and a half years older than the oldest Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, who claimed his sixth victory in 1986 at the age of 46.
Mickelson already has a career befitting one of the game’s greats, having spent over 25 years on the PGA tour, with 195 top-10 finishes, 44 PGA championships and five major wins.
That does not mean he is looking to slow down anytime soon.
“There’s no reason now with the knowledge we have in fitness, the knowledge we have in biomechanics, and the knowledge we have with nutrition and so forth, that we, at a much older age than in the past, should not be able to perform at a very high level,” Mickelson said.
The only major to elude him has been the U.S. Open, in which he has either tied for or placed second on six times.
But after winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, it seems a career grand slam may still be in reach since this year’s U.S. Open will be played on the same course.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; editing by Ken Ferris)