Phil Mickelson will turn 47 on June 16.
He is about six months older than Jack Nicklaus was in 1986 when Nicklaus became the oldest winner of the Masters Tournament.
Count Mickelson and Nicklaus among those who believe Lefty has a chance to overtake Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion this week at Augusta National Golf Club.
“I would say that Phil has a lot better chance at winning this year than I did when I was 46,” Nicklaus said. “Going into the tournament, I had no expectations about winning at all. Once I got myself in contention, I remembered how to play golf.
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“But I would say Phil is far better prepared than I was from playing. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find him in contention.”
Mickelson is playing in his 25th Masters. Mickelson won the Masters in 2004, 2006 and 2010, and has since tied for third in 2012 and tied for second in 2015, four shots behind Jordan Spieth at 14-under 274.
“I don't think much about age right now,” said Mickelson, who has 42 PGA Tour victories and four additional European Tour wins. “I think that guys' careers are being extended a lot longer because of the way fitness has taken over. And it's not like I'm a pillar of fitness, but I spend a decent enough time to be able to physically perform and practice and play the way I'd like to play.”
Mickelson hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2013 British Open.
He had three runner-up finishes last year, including a memorable low-scoring duel with Henrik Stenson in the British Open at Royal Troon.
This season, Lefty has yet to miss a cut in nine tournaments and has three top-10 finishes, the best a tie for fifth in the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship.
“I think the last year and a half, I've worked really hard to get my game back to the level that I expect and the level that I've strived for,” Mickelson said. “If I can play anywhere close to the way I played at the British Open last year and the Ryder Cup, I should be able to give myself a good opportunity for Sunday.”
Mickelson, who went 2-1-1 for the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup Team last September, is still ranked 18th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
With a quarter-century years under his belt at Augusta National, Mickelson will rely on his knowledge to weather the expected storm of strong winds in the first two rounds.
“After 25 years of playing here the knowledge is more instinctive,” Mickelson said. “If you're in the right spot, you can take advantage of your short game and salvage a lot of pars, and I hope to rely on that knowledge and skill to keep myself in it heading into the weekend where players less experienced with the golf course will possibly miss it in the wrong spots and shoot themselves out.”
For Mickelson, Augusta will always be the site of his first of what is now five major championships in 2004 after 12 years of major futility as a pro.
“It's probably my favorite place on earth. I've had some good and some bad, and I look to always try to find it as we go down Magnolia Lane,” Mickelson said. “I think that for a golfer who plays golf for a living, who loves the game, I can't think of a place that you would want to win at and be a part of the history more than Augusta National, because you get to come back every year and be a part of this tournament.”
McIlroy second guessing
Rory McIlroy had some pointed criticism for the members of Muirfield golf club in Scotland after they voted in May 2016 to continue denying female members and again after they voted to allow them in March.
He said it was “horrendous” that the members waited so long to admit females under the pressure of being taken off the British Open rota, and said the next time he plays an Open at the course he “won’t be having many cups of tea with the members afterward.”
The Northern Irishman, in turn, was criticized by many, particularly on social media, after he played a round of golf in February with United States President Donald Trump.
His detractors cited Trump’s ridicule of a handicapped man during a campaign rally and boasts of sexually assaulting women in a taped conversation on an Entertainment Tonight bus.
In light of the criticism, McIlroy said Tuesday at Augusta National Golf Club that he would think twice about playing with Trump if given the opportunity again.
“I've spent time in President Trump's company before, and that does not mean that I agree with everything that he says. Actually the opposite. … We were never in a day and age where we could say those things, but some thought it was appropriate.
“But whenever an invitation or a request comes that way, I don't want to say I jump at the chance, but at the same time, you know, to see the Secret Service, to see the scene, I mean that's really what I was going for. I mean there was not one bit of politics discussed in that round of golf. He was more interested talking about the grass that he just put on the greens.
“But, yeah, look, it's a difficult one. I felt I would have been making more of a statement if I had turned it down. It was not a tough place to be put in, but it was a round of golf and nothing more. Would I do it again? After the sort of backlash I received, I'd think twice about it.”
No dial tone
A few years ago, the PGA Tour acquiesced and began allowing cell phones at its tournament, not only during practice rounds but also during tournament rounds.
Patrons are asked not to have phone conversations or to take pictures within a relatively close proximity to the competition.
Though spectators regularly disobey the request and snap photos anyway, the tour realized with the changing times, people weren’t willing to do without their communication device for a full day.
Augusta National Golf Club does things on its own terms, and won’t be allowing cell phones anytime soon, apparently not even during practice rounds.
“You'll have to ask the next chairman. That's not going to change while I'm chairman,” said Augusta National and Masters Tournament chairman Billy Payne on Wednesday. “I just don't think it's appropriate, and the noise is an irritation to not only players, the dialing, the conversation, it's a distraction and that's the way we've chosen to deal with it.”
State of champions
Dustin Johnson has both enjoyed and been a part of quite a run of significant titles won by college teams and alumni from those teams in the state of South Carolina over the past 10 months.
Since last June, Johnson has won the U.S. Open – and another five tournaments – while his alma mater, Coastal Carolina, won the NCAA Division I baseball championship, Clemson won the NCAA FBS football championship, and the South Carolina women won the NCAA Division I basketball championship. The Gamecocks men’s team made a run of its own, losing in the Final Four on Saturday.
“Yeah, we've been on a good run,” said Johnson, whose participation in the Masters is in doubt following a fall on stairs that injured his back Wednesday afternoon. “The women won the other night which is nice, and Coastal won the baseball. Hate to say Clemson won the football, I'm a Gamecocks fan. But it's good it was in‑state.”