AUGUSTA, Ga. — Pop quiz. Phrankenwood is:
(a) A rare species of Sequoia native to the Philippines
(b) A moisture-resistant laminate that has revolutionized basement flooring
(c) Phil Mickelson's new "driver"
Yes, that's right, it's "c," Mickelson's new "driver." The quotes are necessary because it's not really a driver — it's actually a driver wrapped in a Callaway X-Hot fairway wood, or a Callaway X-Hot fairway wood wrapped in a driver, or well, Lefty, a little help, please…
"This is my driver," Mickelson announced Tuesday at Augusta National, where he is readying to play in his 21st Masters. "It just looks like a 3-wood. It's a 3-wood technology. It's a larger 3-wood, but it's got a driver shaft in it, and it's hot like our 3-wood."
Reporter: How long is it?
Phil: You mean in length or off the tee?
Reporter: In length.
Phil: 45 inches.
Reporter: Is it 12 degrees?
Phil: Eight and a half.
Reporter: Eight and a half? Wow.
Phil: You heard me say it's my driver, right? I mean, I don't know if I'm getting this clear. It's a driver, but it just looks like a 3-wood, because our drivers are so big now. But this one is smaller, because it's an enhanced 3-wood.
Huh? We thought it was a driver!? Now that that's clear, let us take a moment to celebrate Mickelson's zaniest equipment schemes. He won the 2006 Masters with two drivers, one with a draw bias, the other with a fade. He played the 2008 U.S. Open with no driver. And at the 2012 BMW Championship, he went retro, adding a nine-year-old Titleist fairway wood to his arsenal.
(Related Photos: Classic Pictures of Phil Mickelson)
And now … Phrankenwood! Funny name, sure, but, according to Mickelson, it produces big-time pop. Lefty says the club has removed considerable spin from his tee shots and added serious "scoot." That's been particularly handy at slippery, sloping Augusta, where during this week's practice rounds Mickelson has been hammering drives to spots that he hasn't reached in years, including the bottom of the hill at the 9th, and 20 yards further down the slope at 10. At the par-5 15th, Mickelson says Phranky has been shaving two clubs off his approach shots.
The added yards will serve the 42-year-old Mickelson well as he seeks his fourth green jacket. Mickelson is not the bomber he once was. He's averaging "just" 288 yards a poke in 2013, which is 78th on Tour and an 11-yard dip from his 2010 average. He blew the saloon doors of TPC Scottsdale in February, shooting three rounds of 65 or better on his way to a 28-under-par romp, but has been up-and-down since then. At his last start two weeks ago at the Shell Houston Open, Mickelson tied for 16th.
Still, if there's any venue that whets Mickelson's appetite, it's the National, where his resume includes a staggering 14 top-10 finishes. "It comes from knowing I don't have to play perfectly to play well here," Mickelson said of his success. "I don't have to hit perfect shots to make pars.
"It's not like the U.S. Open where if you make one little mistake, it's costing you one or two shots because you don't have the ability to recover. I think that's what's exciting about Augusta National is the recovery shot. That's the most exciting shot in golf; one of the most exciting shots I've ever hit in my career is a recovery shot on 13 a few years ago."
Mickelson is always full of superlatives when describing this place, but this year, he said, the course might just be the Best. Augusta. Ever.
"The areas that over the years have historically given us problems or been thin, like the fairway shot on 13, or even around the green on 12, where you don't get as much sun exposure, these areas are perfect," Mickelson said. "The areas that have historically had problems, they are perfect."
Mickelson played Sunday with one of Augusta's newest members, Condoleezza Rice. Mickelson's agent, Steve Loy, tagged along, and they played a $10 match (who but Phil would get action with Condi?), switching partners every six holes. Rice drained a 40-footer for net birdie at the home hole, and Mickelson couldn't stop gushing.
"She's one of my favorite people to spend time with: fascinating, intelligent," he said. "Big fan of hers and I'm fortunate to get to know her over the years. She never disappoints."
Mickelson was asked if he'd like to see the Royal & Ancient follow Augusta's lead and admit a female member.
"I love the game of golf, and I love playing professional golf," said Mickelson, before alluding to much-publicized comments he made earlier this year about his tax rate. "What I don't love is getting involved in the politics of it. I tried that earlier in the year; it didn't go so well."
Mickelson will play the first two rounds of the 2013 Masters with a couple of other major champions, South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and Germany's Martin Kaymer. Despite his success here, he plans to tread cautiously.
"We have seen it time and time again," Mickelson says. "Guys are in the tournament, put one or two in the water on 12 and they're out. Next thing you know, you don't mention their name again."
Ah, yes, the treacherous 12th.
If only Phrankenwood could hit that tee shot.