AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson admitted Tuesday he misses not having Tiger Woods in the field for the Masters, which begins Thursday.
Mickelson, who has three green jackets, brought up the name of his longtime rival unsolicited. Woods will miss his first Masters in 20 years while recovering from back surgery.
“It’s a weird feeling not having him here, isn’t it?” Mickelson said. “He’s been such a mainstay in professional golf and the majors. It’s awkward to not have him here. I hope he gets back soon. I mean, I hope he’s back for the other majors, and as much as I want to win and I know how great he is and tough to beat it … it also makes it special when he’s in the field and you’re able to win.”
Mickelson, 43, is ranked No. 5 in the world but hasn’t had a top-10 finish this season. His last win was last summer’s almost magical victory at the British Open. More problematic, perhaps, Mickelson has been hobbled by back and muscle injuries for months, not pronouncing himself “100 percent” healthy until last week.
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He even admitted to some nerves “because I always like coming into this week with a win. … being in contention a few times and having that confidence and experience to build on.”
Mickelson, who has won five majors, was asked if he thinks about passing Lee Trevino at six and Arnold Palmer at seven.
“Not really,” he said. “But I do know that Arnold and Tiger have four jackets and I have three. I know Jack has six, but nothing I can do about that right now. I’m just trying to get back to where the two ahead of me are.”
Mickelson is grouped with Ernie Els and Justin Rose for the first two rounds of the Masters.
Kevin Stadler might be playing in the Masters for the first time, but he’s already showing his old man a thing or two.
Such as the best way to get to the Augusta National media center.
Craig Stadler went through the main door for a joint news conference with his son, which is actually the long way to go. Kevin, meanwhile, slipped in through a back entrance, like most players who turn up for interviews at the building alongside the first fairway.
“How’d you come in?” Craig asked his son, looking a bit surprised when he turned to see Kevin standing behind him.
“Through the door,” Kevin replied dryly, very much the child poking fun at his dad.
All kidding aside, the Stadlers are gearing up for a historic week at Augusta National. For the first time, a father and son will play in the same Masters — Craig, who says he’ll probably be teeing it up for the 38th and final time, and Kevin, making his debut in the opening major of the season.
“If and when I do … bow out, I can’t think of a better way to do it than playing with your son in the same tournament,” the elder Stadler said. “It’s awesome.”
Sixty-year-old Craig won the Masters in 1982, beating Dan Pohl in a playoff, and has been back every year since. Kevin, now 34, used to come each year as a child to cheer on his dad. Now, he’s got a spot of his own after winning at Phoenix two months ago for his first PGA Tour victory.
“It’s going to be really, really fun to be on the inside of the ropes,” Kevin said. “I feel like I know this place pretty well but I’ve never, ever played it. So it’s going to be a blast.”
Kevin, whose parents are divorced, has conceded the relationship with his father isn’t as close as it once was, and there were times when he seemed hesitant to turn this into a totally feel-good story. But the younger Stadler is making a name for himself, after a lifetime of being compared with his father (right down to their matching physiques, with both listed as 5 feet 10, 250 pounds by the PGA Tour).
Kevin won four times on the second-tier Nationwide Tour and appears poised for a breakout at the highest level. He has made the cut in 10 of 11 events this year, is 14th in the FedEx Cup and has already eclipsed his career high for earnings in a season with nearly $1.7 million.