AUGUSTA — Phil Mickelson has seen the headlines, but "Tiger vs. Rory," he contends with a wry smile, doesn’t bother him.
“I’m cool with it,” the three-time Masters champion said Tuesday before the tournament’s 76th installment Thursday.
Without saying anything more, Mickelson says everything. His competitive fire has been lit.
See, Mickelson is the anti-Tiger. Instead of meticulously twisting every question into an "I’m really looking forward to this week at this course" response, Mickelson is, normally, jovially forthcoming.
“The family’s doing great,” he said. “After this weekend, we’re all going to the Bahamas for a week.”
With the Masters’ pressure long-lifted from his shoulders after winning his first green jacket in 2004, he holds little back.
“The green are soft. I don’t want to say they are slow, but it’s just not the same Augusta. It’s wet around the greens, and there’s no fear of the course. You’ve got to attack this week. Unless something changes, and I know they have SubAir (green drying system) and, hopefully, they will be able to use it, but unless something changes, it’s going to be a birdie-fest.”
He’s even willing to openly praise his chief rival, the man who will almost surely relegate his career to "the second-greatest golfer of his generation" status.
“I think (Woods) is going to have a great week, because he’s obviously been playing well, and to have won heading in, I think, gives him a lot of confidence.”
“It sucks for us, but…”
The room of reporters erupts in laughter. As he does often, he’s putting on a show, and everyone is glad to be a spectator.
So when Mickelson stops short on an answer, it leaves a lasting impact. "Tiger vs. Rory" is not the way he envisions Sunday afternoon.
If Mickelson wins this week, his fourth green jacket will match the totals of Arnold Palmer and, ahem, Tiger Woods. When asked, he admits it will mean "a lot." When asked to expound, the sly grin reappears.
“It…will…mean…an…awful…lot.” That question is flushed with a smile.
Now entering his 20th Masters tournament, the 41-year-old newly elected member of golf’s Hall of Fame isn’t taking time to reflect.
“I’m still in the stage where I’m looking forward to my career, looking ahead to other opportunities and other tournaments,” Mickelson said.
Only two years removed from his most recent Masters’ win in 2010, the one-time "best player to never win a major" has some advice for the players of today with that moniker — guys like Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Adam Scott.
“I would probably say (to them) the same thing (coach) Dave Pelz said to me in the offseason of 2003 as we were heading into the 2004 season,” Mickelson said before pausing.
“And I’m going to wait to share that until my career is over. Seriously.”
This is Mickelson's favorite week of the year. He’s the underdog. It’s no time for sharing secrets.
Vince Johnson is in his fourth year covering The Masters for Morris Multimedia. You can follow his week on Twitter @vincejohnson.