The Masters - Mickelson eager to repeat Augusta triumph
It happens every year when he motors down Magnolia Lane, Phil Mickelson feels like a child again and that he can rise to any challenge at Augusta.
Mickelson gave the US Masters a magical shot and a heartwarming moment with his victory last year, and Lefty is keen to chase a fourth green jacket next week despite another tumultuous year off the course.
The tree-lined road to the stately white clubhouse triggers memories for the 40-year-old American.
"It reminds me of when I was a kid. It reminds me of when I was 10 years old watching Seve Ballesteros win in 1980 and saying to my mom, 'I want to win that tournament. I want to be like that and win this event,'" Mickelson said.
"It reminds me of dreams that I had as a child, and I feel like Augusta National and the Masters Tournament gives every kid in the game of golf who dreams of playing professionally, dreams of winning Major championships, something to strive for, something to dream about."
Mickelson authored another dreamy Augusta story last year when he charged to victory, helped by a daring six-iron slashed 207 yards through a four-foot gap between trees to within three feet of the cup at the 13th.
"I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green," explained Mickelson, who likes to be daring on the golf course.
He celebrated his triumph with a tearful hug with his wife, Amy, who a year before had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I just remember hugging her and not wanting to let go, and we were still right in the thick of it," he said about her strength-sapping treatment.
"And we are doing so much better now, and Amy is doing so much better, and we are in such a better place."
Like last year, Mickelson comes to Augusta struggling with his golf game. Since slipping on the winner's green jacket, he has failed to win another tournament.
Two-times champion Tom Watson, who has won eight Major titles, said not to rely on recent form when it comes to judging Mickelson at the Masters.
"He's such a natural touch player, a touch and feel player. That's the key to him," Watson told Reuters at a recent New York signing for his golf book "The Timeless Swing."
"He's got great power and he knows how to play the golf course. He's very prepared at Augusta National. I guarantee that. He knows that golf course like the back of his hand."
Mickelson found himself in troubling territory two months after the 2010 Masters when he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a condition that made his joints ache so deeply he had trouble getting out of bed.
Medication, training and a five-month shift to a vegetarian diet helped get Mickelson back on the road to health.
The meat-loving Mickelson, an investor in Five Guys hamburger restaurant franchises in California, has since eased some burgers back into his diet and feels he is on the brink of getting his game together in time for his favourite event.
"I think I'm playing a little bit better this year," he said at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational where he tied for 24th. "But I'm not getting the results.
"But as far as the way I'm striking it, heading into Augusta last year I wasn't striking it well and I had a great session with Butch (coach Harmon) early in the week and it kind of turned things around. I feel very confident with the way I'm striking the ball. I just have to shoot a number.
"I feel like the year kind of starts now, it's an exciting time with the best tournament of the year coming up."