Phil Mickelson's Early Masters Nerves Will Be Calmed by Augusta Experience

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Phil Mickelson's Early Masters Nerves Will Be Calmed by Augusta Experience
David Cannon/Getty Images

When we look back at the illustrious career of Phil Mickelson, it probably won't include the word nervous anywhere in the title, opening cover or descriptions of his major championship wins. 

However, that's exactly what the four-time major and three-time Masters winner is feeling before he hits Augusta on Thursday for the opening round of the 2013 tournament. 

While certainly cautious in his approach to reporters, Mickelson's extensive experience at Augusta and his championship pedigree will guide him past these early-round fears as things kick off on Thursday with the opening tee time. 

Mickelson made headlines earlier in the week for saying that he was nervous prior to the start of the tournament. 

As reported by Helen Ross of PGATOUR.com, Mickelson expressed some nerves about hitting the course for the first time in two weeks, just the second time since 1998 that Phil has opted against playing the week before the first major of the season. 

Certainly uncharacteristic behavior. 

Mickelson, who has finished inside the top 10 an astounding 14 times at the Masters, feeds off of the energy and the lifeblood that is Augusta. Of those 14 top-10 finishes, Mickelson has been inside the top 5 a remarkable 10—including Masters wins in 2004, 2006 and 2010. 

Over the years, Mickelson has also etched himself in tournament lore. 

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ESPN's group of golf analysts released a top-10 shots of the Masters piece leading up to the 2013 action, and Mickelson found himself on the list twice—at No. 10 for his closing birdie to win it in 2004 and No. 4 for his shot through the trees in his most-recent green jacket performance. 

There are only seven other golfers that have been as proficient as Mickelson in winning the green jacket. Each have their own special place in golf history, but few men have been as technical, emotional or clutch as Mickelson in winning their green jackets. 

Still, Mickelson has a lot riding on this tournament. 

For starters, he's coming off somewhat of a rough 2012 major season. While finishing tied for third at the Masters was certainly an accomplishment, he went on to miss the cut at the British Open and finish no better than 36th at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

Additionally, his 2012 Masters experience was somewhat troubling. After being in contention on Sunday for what seemed like the 50th time in a row, a triple-bogey on the par-three fourth squashed any threat of a potential fourth green jacket, and Mickelson settled for his seventh third-place finish in major play. 

Phil is also breaking in a new driver, known around golf circles as the "Phrankenwood." 

He's been the focus of several interviews and questions throughout Masters preparation about the club, and if we've learned anything from Rory McIlroy about club changes this season, it's that they are always an adjustment. 

Even so, Mickelson is clearly looking to improve upon his ranking in the driving accuracy department, something that is always important in these major championships. Justin Ray of ESPN had a telling tweet about Phil's choice to switch clubs:

Always the golfer to fight back when things don't go his way, Mickelson is also choosing to avoid a pre-tournament win in favor of a long-standing curse at Augusta. 

Look no further than Mickelson's choice to avoid winning Wednesday's par-three contest (the winner of the event has never one the Masters in the same year) to suggest that he's not feeling like the defiant type at the tournament (via Kelly Tilghman):

Superstition aside, this is the same Phil Mickelson we all know and love (or know and hate, depending on your favorite golfer). 

Once the dust settles from the opening few holes and one of Augusta's best-ever golfers settles in, there won't be a shred of nerves remaining in his body. While Mickelson was clearly nervous about the prospects of playing in this tournament in the year 2013, he also addressed to Ross that one of the greatest things about Augusta is the ability to come down the back nine and compete. 

Here's his quote, per the initial link:

I think that what makes the Masters so exciting is having an opportunity to win; playing the back nine with an opportunity...And I've been fortunate to come out on top a few years and I've been unfortunate to have a number of them come close but not quite good enough. But either way, having that opportunity to be in the thick of it and to feel that excitement, to feel that pressure, to grace Amen Corner knowing that you need birdies and trying to win a green jacket, that is the greatest thrill a golfer can possibly experience.

Nerves, schmerves

Despite the initial lack of conviction in his Augusta interviews, we all know that Mickelson will come ready to play at the 2013 Masters. It might not happen on Thursday or even Friday, but you can never discount a guy that continually proves himself to us all in the face of defeat. 

Expect the same, smiling Mickelson to give a hat wave and nod to the crowd and Augusta at the tee box on Thursday morning, and then proceed to take one deep breath before letting his new club rip off the first tee. 

After that, don't expect to see any more Mickelson uncertainty. 

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