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PGA Tour Confidential: Is Rory McIlroy Running Out of Time?

Phil Mickelson, Shell Houston Open
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Phil Mickelson says he's working on a "special club" for the Masters.

3. Phil Mickelson once brought two drivers to the Masters and he's also played without one at the longest U.S. Open in history (2008 at Torrey Pines). He's unveiling a "special club" Monday to use at the Masters. Is Mickelson's mad-scientist approach to his game a help or a hindrance?

Van Sickle: There's nothing Phil likes better than trying to outsmart his opponents. All right, he likes outdriving them more. but he also likes to out-think them. He won the Masters with two drivers in the bag, then tanked when he tried a U.S. Open with no drivers. Consider this tinkering just part of Phil's mandatory major preparations. He has to feel like he has left no stone unturned, and therefore has a bit of an edge on his foes. He takes confidence from that. Whether the plan works or not is less important than getting him in the right frame of mind to play well. So I think it'll help.

O'Donoghue: This is show business, although most professional golfers tend to forget that fact. People pay money to see them and they want to be entertained. Nobody does that more than Phil Mickelson. The guy is box office and he is an example to all pros. The fact that he is quirky and experimental only adds to the allure. He's the best value in the press room when interviewed and is streets ahead of most of his peers when it comes to interacting with the fans. He can do whatever he likes as far as I'm concerned because it's fun to watch.

Morfit: I think it's a help to him. It keeps him engaged.

Ritter: It's probably both. The tinkering stimulates his creativity, but there have been times when he's outsmarted himself.

Wei: If you believe you found something that will give you an edge, the mental game is such a big component in golf that it gives you a boost. Phil has four majors, including three green jackets to prove it, not to mention 41 PGA Tour wins -- many during Tiger's golden era, too.

Bamberger: Total help. He gets bored. He needs toys. Planes, hamburger shops, upright putters (like he had in Houston). It's all good. It's fun.

Gorant: Help. Without the tinkering and challenges and crazy shots Phil would lose interest. Any thing that keeps him engaged is good for his game.

Godich: It's what makes Phil so intriguing, but I think he outthinks himself. Funny, but for a guy who has such feel on and around the greens, why doesn't he trust his instincts with other areas of his game?

Reiterman: Phil’s always searching for some little thing to kick-start his game. I love it. I hope he does something crazy – two putters, six wedges, three 3-woods, whatever.

Shipnuck: Phil’s been a prodigy since he was a kid -- he needs to do nutty stuff like this just to keep himself from getting too bored. (Tiger’s antidote to monotony is to redo his swing every five years or so.) Phil has definitely outsmarted himself a few times, but I’m just glad he still cares enough to try to keep solving the game’s riddles.

Lynch: The only club Mickelson should be worried about as he drives down Magnolia Lane is his putter.

4. Outside of the Big Three of Tiger, McIlroy and Mickelson, whose stock is rising and/or falling going into the Masters?

Bamberger: Dustin Johnson. He'll be playing a par-68. He can reach 'em all.

Van Sickle: I can't say anybody's stock is rising dramatically going into this Masters. At least, not anybody who's among the usual suspects we figure will contend at Augusta. Luke Donald hasn't won in over a year. Neither has Justin Rose or Adam Scott. Lee Westwood is using a long putter with middling results. Mickelson's tinkering with his putting -- claw grip, conventional grip, fat-oversized grip -- makes me wonder if he doesn't have a bigger issue with his stroke. But I still wouldn't count him out. Tiger's stock is rising dramatically because of three wins, and since no one else seems to be rising up to meet him, his rise seems that much bigger.

O'Donoghue: Justin Rose has been my tip for the Masters since the end of last season. He never gets the attention that he deserves. In the UK, Poulter, Westwood and Donald get much more press. Rose is quieter but in my view, far more deadly. In the final event of the European Tour's season in Dubai, Rory was set for his coronation as No.1 in everything, but Rose went out to win that tournament and never backed off. He shot 62! Only for Rory's stunning 5 birdie finish, Rose would have been a wonderful Champion. Couple that with his putting display against Mickelson at the Ryder Cup, his solid record at Augusta and his World Ranking of No.3 going to Augusta, I'd look no further than him to challenge the Big Three for the ultimate prize of a green jacket.

Godich: Brandt Snedeker's rib injury couldn't have come at a worse time. He was on such a roll. I just hope the missed cuts at Bay Hill and Houston are rust-related. And it's no secret that Tiger Woods is the hottest player on the planet. This is his Masters to lose. After what happened last year in the majors, if he doesn't win at Augusta, I’ll have to seriously wonder if he'll catch Jack -- or even get anywhere near 18.

Lynch: Look toward South Africa: Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel are looking sharp. Not so hot: their compatriot Ernie Els, nor anyone else who won a major last year.

Morfit: Henrik Stenson's stock is rising. He's starting to resemble the guy who looked so good at the WGC-Accenture all those years ago. I'd be surprised if he's not on the leader board at some point at Augusta.

Ritter: I just have this funny feeling about three guys -- Matt Kuchar, Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel. All have had good stretches this year, and if golf wagering were legal and had an office pool, I'd try to put those three on my team.

Gorant: Snedeker looked like he would be a factor early in the year but his game is still shaky after the rib injury. Dustin Johnson looks like he's rounding into form at the right time.

Wei: Falling: Brandt Snedeker: Unfortunate injury killed his momentum. Rising: Keegan Bradley's game is shaping up nicely. So is Justin Rose's -- if his putter gets hot that week, then he'll be dangerous. Same goes for Dustin Johnson, who went low today and he left a few shots out there, too. Henrik Stenson showed some game, birdieing the last two holes to give him a shot at a playoff. For the first time, Stenson is going into the Masters feeling good about his game. He's a long hitter, which is always an advantage at Augusta.

Reiterman: Keegan Bradley and Bill Haas both lead the Tour with five top 10s, and they were in contention before fading in Houston. Also have to look out for Dustin Johnson, who nearly pulled off a Sunday rally in Houston. But keep an eye on Lee Westwood. Looks like he’s found something with the putter. And after starting off the season red hot, Brandt Snedeker looks rusty after taking five weeks off for a rib injury. Two straight missed cuts heading into Augusta.

Shipnuck: Keegan Bradley is definitely a threat to win -- he’s been playing well all season. Dustin Johnson is due for a big Masters and he’s also peaking. Both of these guys have perfect games for Augusta National. I also love King Louis’s chances. He’s a savant, and that place, like the Old Course, rewards genius.

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