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65TH MASTERS | GOLF

Mickelson Puts Himself on Clock

April 05, 2001|THOMAS BONK

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The player most likely to succeed at the Masters?

Don't say Tiger Woods. That's way too easy.

Say Phil Mickelson.

Now, forget the fact that no left-hander has won the Masters, just remember this one idea about Mickelson: He's due.

At 30, Mickelson has played 34 major championships and is still looking for his first title. It is a sign of Mickelson's maturity that he doesn't back away from questions on how he feels about not having won a major after nine years as a pro.

"It's disappointing," he said. "I certainly thought coming out of college, after having won an event in college on tour, my expectations [were] that I would have not just one, but hopefully more.

"But to have none is disappointing. But I also feel that I've improved each year. I've gotten better and better. I am a much better player than I ever have been and if I'm able to put it together, make smart decisions and hit smart golf shots, I will break through soon."

Mickelson has played the Masters eight times and has three top 10s since 1996, including a tie for seventh last year despite a third-round 76. In 30 rounds, Mickelson is a combined 10 under.

Woods, by the way, is 13 under in 22 rounds.

Mickelson has won 18 PGA Tour events--five in the last 14 months--yet the closest he has come to a major victory was the 1999 U.S. Open, when Payne Stewart birdied the 72nd hole to beat him by a shot.

But that was two years ago, which means the time for Mickelson to make his best move as a major player is right now, this week, today.

That's hardly a secret and Mickelson is aware of his timetable.

"For the next 10 years, what I do, how I play and the things I accomplish will ultimately decide how I am looked at as a player, generations from now.

"If I am able to win some majors, I can be looked on differently [instead] of a player who has won a lot of events, but never a major.

"I don't feel like it's that far away. I feel like it's soon. It would not surprise me to be in contention."

TIGER UPDATE

How it feels to be in contention, by Woods: "I absolutely enjoy coming out here and competing and playing. I love it. I love to do that. It's just such a big kick for me. I love to be able to put myself in contention coming down the stretch on the back nine and have to execute a golf shot and your nerves are fluttering, eyeballs are beady, palms are sweating.

"And it's fun to experience that and somehow be able to control it and pull off a shot."

MASTERS: HARD TIMES

For everyone who thought that Augusta National was already tough enough, it probably wasn't good news when Masters Chairman Hootie Johnson said that four or five of the par-four holes will be "strengthened" for 2002.

Johnson would not say which holes would be altered, but speculation centered on the 435-yard No. 5, the 375-yard No. 7, the 455-yard No. 11, the 405-yard No. 14 and the 405-yard 18th.

Tom Fazio will be the architect.

Johnson said the changes have been under consideration for four years, but the plan is to lengthen some and to move the tee in others, which is probably what will happen to the closing hole.

How much longer will the holes be made?

"Probably all we can," Johnson said.

The reason for the changes is to keep up with the improved golf equipment, he said.

"Like Jeff Sluman, he was regarded as a short hitter and now he is approaching being a long hitter," Johnson said. "So the equipment is making a huge difference and we are going to make an attempt, as we always have, to try to keep the golf course current with the times."

TV UPDATE

Also, Johnson said the Masters is considering having television coverage of the leaders on all 18 holes Sunday--but not this year.

There are only 10 1/2 hours of live TV coverage for the four rounds this week. If the coverage is expanded, it would increase by 1 1/2 hours.

BADGES OF HONOR

To buy a patron (read, spectator) badge to see the Masters, you must do business with a ticket "broker" (read, scalper).

But it will cost you.

The average price for a four-day badge this year is $6,000, which is about 500 times the face value of $125.

The actual number of badges to the Masters is not disclosed, but it is believed to be between 30,000 and 35,000.

Start saving now.

R.I.P., TOURNAMENTS

Is Laura Davies the City champion? Sort of, but not really.

You see, Davies won the most recent LPGA event in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Women's Championship, but that event no longer exists.

That means Davies cannot be the defending champion in the Office Depot Hosted by Amy Alcott, a first-time event at Wilshire next week. Davies says this isn't the first time she won a tournament that is now out of business.

"It has happened so many times, I have stopped counting," she said. "The list is rather long."

Davies estimated the number of her dead tournament titles to be eight.

"They just vanished in the night," she said. "I don't know if it's me or what."

TREEMENDOUS

Just in case anybody asks, there are 67 magnolia trees on Magnolia Lane.

FOLLOW THIS PATH?

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