Tiger, Phil, Anybody Else?

Phil Mickelson sounded a little more apprehensive than usual on Tuesday. "I haven't been in contention in a while," he said.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

The appearance of the two most chronicled players in the game on a warm, cloudy Tuesday at Augusta National begged the question: Can anybody other than Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods win this tournament?

They have won five of the last six Masters. And even when they don't win, they almost win. As world No. 3 Adam Scott said, in the understatement of the day, "They have obviously figured out a way to get around this golf course well."

Until Arnold Palmer trumped them both, Mickelson and Woods attracted nearly all the attention at the media center on Tuesday.

Mickelson quipped that he couldn't remember what it felt like to put the green jacket on Woods in 2005, but said, "I remember what it felt like last year when he put it on me."

Woods was asked about a recent round with Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, and joked: "Smoltzy's ridiculous how much he loves golf. He'll probably watch this press conference, which is good because he's my ATM."

Mickelson will use two drivers again this year, one to put it in play and one for extra distance. He also said he would return to Hartford, Conn., for the Travelers Championship this summer, welcome news for New Yorkers looking for something to do June 21-24.

Woods insisted that he's not thinking about another Tiger Slam, despite winning the last two majors.

"I'm thinking about trying to place my ball around this golf course," he said. "That's about it."

Two-time champion Mickelson hasn't finished out of the top 10 in a Masters since 1998, but is a little more apprehensive than usual on his favorite course. "I haven't been in contention in a while," he said.

Since losing a playoff to Charles Howell III at the Nissan Open on February 18, Mickelson has lost in the second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play, tied for 36th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 23rd at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral.

Woods, too, has looked mortal. He couldn't keep his Nike orbs out of the water and shot a back-nine 43 on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, and he let Brett Wetterich back into the CA Championship with a final-round 73 (but won anyway).

Is this the year someone like Mike Weir comes along to bust the Phil-and-Tiger blockade?

Don't bet on it.

Mickelson, who looked fitter than usual in his white-with-red-trim Callaway golf shirt Tuesday, has always run hot and cold at Bay Hill, and his Doral mediocrity can be chalked up to the wind. He's a natural high-ball hitter, which kills his chances when the palm trees are bending sideways (see: 2007 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic). But his game plays perfectly around Augusta.

Four-time champion Woods has simply mastered the art of winning no matter the state of his game, especially here on golf's most sacred real estate. He plugs along with his B or C game until, inevitably, he gets hot for two or three hours at some point in the course of four days.

One of the oldest cliches in sports is that statistics can lie, and as they say on Wall Street, past performance does not guarantee future results. But Mickelson and Woods at Augusta add up to the surest best in golf.

"If I'm playing well and feeling good about my game," said Scott, coming off a win at the Shell Houston Open, "there's no reason why I shouldn't beat them this week."

At Augusta, that will have to be seen to be believed.

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