Twenty-four times Phil Mickelson has teed it up at the Masters, and when he does it a 25th time, at age 46, on Thursday, it willstill be a thrill.
"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, be a part of this tournament," he said Tuesday.
And yet merely being part of the event isn't what Mickelson is about. He's in it to win it.
The world No. 18 has played eight events in 2017, finishing in the top 20 in half of them. In two of his past three starts, he finished in the top 10, though he is coming off a T-55 at the Houston Open last weekend.
That's roughly where he finished at Augusta in 2016 (T-58) when he missed the cut for the second time in three years and only the third time in 24 appearances.But sandwiched between those flopshe finished tied for second behind Jordan Spieth in 2015.
"I've had some good and some bad," Mickelson acknowledged, "and I look to always try to find it as we go down Magnolia Lane."
If he finds it, thenhe feels as if he still can compete with the game's long-hitting youngsters despite the fact that he ranks 77th in driving distance these days. He makes up for it by being ranked No. 2 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the green as well as No. 17 in strokes gained putting.
It's that kind of place, Augusta National. You can be a bit wild off the tee, but you move up — or down —the leaderboard based on how you handle yourself on and around the course's tricky greens.
"Even though you might miss it big, 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," he said.
The voice of a veteran who knows his game or a man unwilling to face up to the toll time takes on hisgame?
Maybe a bit of both. The key for Lefty clearly will be surviving tothe weekend, which will require keeping up with the kids and dealing with a threatening forecast. He goes off at 10:45 a.m. ET Thursday with Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain and Si Woo Kim of South Korea.
It was duly noted Tuesday that Mickelson is the same age Jack Nicklaus was when he won his last green jacket in 1986, and Mickelson isn't about to give up before that first butterfly-filled drive off No. 1 on Thursday.
"I've worked really hard to get my game back to the level that I expect and the level that I've strived for," he said of remaining competitive against players 20 years his junior. "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."