Phil Mickelson: Tiger is missed

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As hard as it may be to believe, Phil Mickelson said Tuesday that he misses having Tiger Woods in the field at the Masters this week.

Woods is not playing in the tournament for the first time in 20 years due to March 31 back surgery that is expected to keep him out of competitive golf until at least the summer.

As part of an answer to another question, Mickelson brought up Woods' absence unsolicited.

"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, a three-time Masters champion and the reigning Open Championship winner, has had his own injury issues this year, having to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open after two rounds with a back problem and again two weeks ago at the Valero Texas Open during the third round due to a muscle pull.

It made many wonder about his status for this week, but Mickelson played all four rounds at the Shell Houston Open last week and an 18-hole practice round at Augusta National on Tuesday.

"Last week I felt great," Mickelson said. "I was surprised because I had a pulled muscle in Texas and I felt great all four rounds. I had been doing physic ball work and stuff to strengthen my back every morning, every night, for weeks and weeks to make sure that I enter this week feeling good, healthy and I'm able to swing as hard as I want and hit the shots that I need to try and hit."

A victory here would give Mickelson four Masters titles, tying him with Arnold Palmer and Woods, two behind Jack Nicklaus. As for Woods, Mickelson went on to talk about how important his longtime adversary has been to his career.

"Look at what he's doing for the game the last 17 years he's played as a professional. It's been incredible," Mickelson said. "I've told him, and I've said this before, nobody has benefited more from having Tiger in the game than myself.

"I remember when I was an amateur and I won my first tournament in Tucson in 1991, the entire purse was $1 million, first place was $180,000 and Steve [Loy, my agent] and I would sit down and say, 'I wonder if in my lifetime, probably not in my career, we would have play for a $1 million first-place check.' [Now] it's every week. It's unbelievable the growth of this game.

"And Tiger has been the instigator. He's been the one that's really propelled and driven the bus because he's brought increased ratings, increased sponsors, increased interest and we have all benefited, but nobody has benefited more than I have, and we're all appreciative. That's why we miss him so much; we all know what he's meant to the game."

Mickelson has more than $74 million in official career earnings on the PGA Tour (he's won 43 times), not to mention his endorsement income and overseas tournaments. He is second to Woods, who has earned more than $109 million.

Mickelson is grouped with Ernie Els and Justin Rose for the first two rounds of the Masters and tees off at 1:48 p.m. on Thursday.

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