AUGUSTA, Ga. - Ten years later, Phil Mickelson can remember every little detail of having made the birdie putt on the 18th green and feeling the weight of the world slip off of his shoulders. "I jumped so high," he said Tuesday, "I almost hit lightning.
"I probably could have dunked a basketball if need be," he said, noting that many shots of that celebration showed a man whose mighty leap barely got him off the ground. "Unfortunately, the photographers, they just didn't time it right."
So he was kidding. He was in the mood because he knows that winning the 2004 Masters was not his apex. Mickelson was only getting started. He has won four more major titles, including two more green jackets. These days, his spirits, if not his feet, soar when he comes through the gates of Augusta National.
"This is my favorite week," he said. "I just love everything about this tournament. I love what it stands for. I just can't believe I get to come back every year."
The tournament, in the form of the people who come to watch it, love him, too. It was obvious Tuesday morning with the rumble of a throng moving from place to place, the shouts and laughter from people who were excited to see a big star up close, the cheers on a golf course two days before the start of a tournament. Mickelson always is popular, but this year he is more. With Tiger Woods absent for the first time since 1994, Mickelson is the headliner.
"It's a weird feeling, not having him here, isn't it? He's been such a mainstay in professional golf and in the majors," Mickelson said of the world's No. 1 player, who had back surgery last week. "It's awkward to not have him here."
Mickelson spoke about being the most fortunate beneficiary of the Tiger Effect, recalling how he mused to his agent Steve Loy in 1991 whether he would live to see the day when there would be a $1-million first prize in a tournament. Now, Mickelson said at his pre-Masters news conference, "it's every week." Woods' galvanizing impact is the reason for that.
Even without Woods, golfers believe there is enough about which to get excited. Adam Scott, preparing to treat guests at the champions dinner Tuesday night to a menu including Moreton Bay bugs (actually a type of lobster), said, "Every year here, this event produces something special, no matter what."
People in the know believe there is enough fire in Mickelson, 43, for the lefty to contend, despite his rough year that has brought no victories and two withdrawals (one for a bad back and one for a strained oblique). "Something just happens when he comes here," said Butch Harmon, Mickelson's swing coach. "His form coming in, you can throw that out."
That form has been percolating for a decade. Harris English, a tour winner and first-time Masters participant, was a Georgia high school kid in the gallery in 2004. "I got chill bumps from that putt he made on 16," English, 24, said, adding that he didn't get to see the final putt, but saw Mickelson's speech in person. He has since told the three-time champion how moving it was.
It still has Mickelson believing he can walk on air here. "It's a magical place to begin with," he said. "But the feeling that comes over me as I drive down Magnolia Lane is I don't have to play perfect to play well here because I can recover from mistakes here. You always have a shot."
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