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Published: Thursday, 4/10/2008

Mickelson hopes to match Palmer

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Phil Mickelson won the Masters in 2004. He won again in 2006. This is 2008. Spot a trend?

The legendary Arnold Palmer won his four green jackets at Augusta National in every even-numbered year between 1958 and '64.

So Mickelson will try to equal the King's performance line while trying to snap back from his worst Masters performance since his first professional exposure to Augusta in 1993, when he finished at 3-over 291 and tied for 34th. Last year, during a season which saw him struggle in the majors, in large part because of a hand injury suffered before the U.S. Open, he carded an 11-over 299 in the Masters and tied for 24th place.

"I'm excited for the majors because of what I went through last year," he said.

Mickelson said the Masters is the "most complete test of golf" among the four majors.

"It tests all areas of your game," he added. "Your short game has to be impeccable because these are the most demanding greens that we'll ever face."

Unlike other major championship venues, especially those that host the U.S. Open, Mickelson said Augusta National is not a place where you have to play perfect golf to win.

"I love this golf course," he said. "I love this tournament and I love how when I get here, I don't have to be perfect. You don't have to hit everything perfect to be able to score well. You do have to get up-and-down a lot from around the greens and I think that's the area of my game that I feel the most comfortable with. That's probably why I always believed before I had won a major that this would be my best opportunity to win one."

A LIGHT BAG: Justin Rose, who posted his best Masters finish, a tie for fifth, last year, tuned up for this edition with a nine-hole practice round during which he carried only a sand wedge, lob wedge and putter.

"I've done it before," he said. "It's a routine that serves me well, especially at the majors where the premium is around the greens. That's definitely the case at Augusta National, so I just focused on the short game.

"Sometimes I stand on the tees and visualize the tee shots I want to hit, but then I walk up to the green and hit shots from areas I know I'm likely to be in if I miss [the green]. For example, at No. 11, you know your miss is going to be right, so I hit a few chips from the right side.

"It's just knowing your game and practicing from the positions you'll likely be in."

Rose, a South African native who now lives in London, finished in 12th place, or better, at all four majors last year.

START NO. 51: Gary Player will make history today when he steps to the tee at 8:44 a.m. and makes the 12,020th stroke of his Masters career.

The 72-year-old Player, a three-time Masters champion, will be starting his 51st Masters, breaking the record of 50 he shared with Arnold Palmer, who played in his final Masters in 2004.

Player, a South African who was the first international player to win at Augusta, captured his last green jacket in 1978 when he birdied seven of the last 10 holes in the final round.

He played in his first Masters in 1957 and has played every year since with the exception of 1973, when he was recovering from surgery.

CHIP SHOTS: This is the 50th anniversary of Herbert Warren Wind, a noted golf writer, giving the nickname "Amen Corner" to holes 11-12-13 at Augusta National. Another noted scribe, Marino Parascenzo, the retired golf writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (the sister paper of The Blade) whose work appeared from time to time in this section, received the PGA of America's lifetime achievement award for journalists last night at the annual dinner of the Golf Writers Association of America. Rory Sabbatini won yesterday's nine-hole Masters Par 3 Tournament with a 5-under score. Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Charles Coody and Wayne Grady had holes-in-one during the event. Player, Palmer and Jack Nicklaus played together in one threesome. Palmer finished closest to the pin (22 1/2 inches) on the first hole of Augusta National's par-3 course and Nicklaus, the six-time Masters winner, hit to within 12 inches on the finishing hole.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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