RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Phil Mickelson will begin his preparation for the Masters in earnest on Friday at a place, and on a tour, not typically associated with the regimen required to win a major.
The lefthander is making his second start on the PGA Tour Champions in the Dominion Energy Charity Classic at the Country Club of Virginia’s somewhat forgiving James River course.
Mickelson will be paired with fellow tour rookie Jim Furyk and defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez, who shot a 9-under 63 on a soft course in the final round last year to win on the circuit for the best golfers aged 50 and over.
In choosing to play in Virginia for the first time since 1993, and in a $2 million event rather than seek an exemption into the $9 million CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Mickelson joked that whatever he managed to do on that course would be “a letdown.”
It was at Shadow Creek two years ago that he won a $9 million, winner-take-all, made-for-television match against Tiger Woods.
“I made so much more the last time I played that I just didn’t see the benefit,” Mickelson said.
After this weekend, he plans to return to the PGA side for next week’s Zozo Championship in California and, after a week off, the Houston Open the week before the Masters.
Mickelson won his only other start on the Champions tour, taking home $450,000 at the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National in late August. He loved reconnecting with old friends on the tour, and said the atmosphere is conducive to preparatory work he needs.
“It helps me free up, work on the areas that I need to work on in my game. It’s very difficult to be competitive on the regular tour,” Mickelson said. “I’ve had a couple good finishes, but it’s hard to be competitive week in and week out unless you drive the ball incredibly long and straight. The long part I’m okay with, it’s the straight part that I struggle with.”
Honing his competitive fitness also is a benefit, Mickelson said.
“You have to be in the thick of it and feel those nerves and compete for a championship to really be able to get better,” he said, “and I’m able to compete out here and get my skills a little bit sharper.”
His experience at Ozarks, where he went wire-to-wire and finished at 22 under to win by three, was an example. A week earlier, a missed cut at The Northern Trust knocked him from the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“I think that you have to develop a confidence in competition on the things you’re working on. It’s been good for me in the first event to be able do that and I’m looking forward to be able to doing that here,” he said.
Ernie Els, another tour rookie, and Furyk have each won twice. Furyk and Mickelson have been rivals since their college days, and the only man to shoot 58 on the PGA Tour thinks having one of the game’s top stars play in Champions Tour events is a benefit.
“It’s a big boost for the Champions Tour to have him come out and play. He’s a guy that still moves the needle on the PGA Tour, so it’s a big bonus for us here,” Furyk said.
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