AUGUSTA, Ga. There’s a guy somewhere with a smile that won’t go away and $1 in his pocket that he won off of Phil Mickelson at the Masters.
Mickelson, playing a practice round earlier this week, hit his tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole over the green, leaving himself a wicked chip downhill.
This guy in the gallery was, in Mickelson’s words, “mouthing off about hard shot, get this up and down, no chance, blah, blah, blah.”
So Lefty, one of the best scramblers in golf, bet the guy a dollar he’d make par. He didn’t. Missed a seven-footer. Borrowed the money from his caddy to pay off. (A man who wins $5 million a year doesn’t carry a lot of small bills.)
Mickelson told the story with a smile on his face. He has been smiling a lot as Thursday’s opening round of the Masters has approached. He goes in a dollar poorer but with his pockets full of high expectations. It’s a tournament he loves: “The best week of the year if you’re a golfer,” he said.
Mickelson is 43 years old now, a five-time major winner – including three Masters – but he remembers how it all began, back there at home, for him and probably for a lot of others in this tournament.
“I remember watching Seve (Ballesteros) come up. I believe I was 10,” he said. “He was winning, and I told my mom, I want to win that tournament. It’s funny how when you look back, when you’re a kid, all the things you did in dreaming of winning this tournament – times I would hit balls in the rain, saying, ‘This is going to help me win the Masters.’
“Or putts that you would hit late at night or in the dark, this feel, this touch is going to help me win the Masters. All these little things.”
With Tiger Woods absent this week, Mickelson is at center stage, and he’s as likely as anyone to stir up some drama. He knows how to win, how to lose (he has been runner-up in the U.S. Open six times), how to make risky decisions, hit magical shots, play the hero and the victim.
With him, there’s never a dull moment.
He wants to win this Masters to tie Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods with four victories. It’s a grown-up dream, but they’re just as good.
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