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Lefty feels 'nervous' ahead of Masters bid

U.S. golfer Phil Mickelson (R) tees off on the fifth hole as compatript Dustin Johnson watches during a practice round ahead of the Masters
U.S. golfer Phil Mickelson (R) tees off on the fifth hole as compatript Dustin Johnson watches during a practice round ahead of the Masters

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Playing in the Masters has always been an electrifying experience for Phil Mickelson and this week is no different for the American, even though he is "nervous" about his title bid after recent health concerns.

The left-hander, a three-times winner at Augusta National, says he has fully recovered after withdrawing from last month's Texas Open with a pulled abdominal muscle but rues the fact that he has not been in tournament contention in recent months.

"I'm nervous about this week because I always like coming into this week with a win (earlier in the season)," British Open champion Mickelson told reporters in a packed interview room on Tuesday.

"I like coming into this week being in contention a few times and having that confidence and experience to build on. But I have to give myself a little bit of slack, because I have not been 100 percent.

Mickelson, fresh off a tie for 12th at the Houston Open that marked his best finish in nine starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, said he had benefited after doing extensive physiotherapy work to strengthen his back.

"Physically, I feel great," said the 43-year-old who will be seeking a sixth major title this week. "The parts of my game, if I break them down, they feel terrific.

"But I haven't put them together this year. I haven't had the results to fall back on. I haven't experienced that pressure to feel comfortable in that environment, and so I'm certainly nervous, because this is a week that I care about the most."

'MAGICAL PLACE'

Mickelson, a flamboyant player known for his bold approach to the game, has always relished competing at the Masters where 'risk-reward' shots are more plentiful than in any other major championship.

"This is my favorite week, and the course is in spectacular condition, as always," said the 43-year-old, who claimed his first Green Jacket at Augusta National in 2004 before adding two more in 2006 and 2010.

"It's a magical place to begin with but for me personally 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. You have a chance to salvage your par. You have a chance to let your short game save it for you. And if I do hit a number of good shots, I'm able to make birdies."

It took Mickelson more than a decade of close calls before he won his first Masters, having recorded seven top-10s in his first 11 starts at Augusta National, but he always knew he was ideally suited to a venue where short game genius was rewarded.

"This course has always been a course that I felt comfortable on and I've played some of my best golf here," he said.

"I just love everything about this tournament. That win 10 years ago, it just propelled me. And I knew once I won one, I really felt confident I would win a few (more)."

World number five Mickelson will tee off in the company of South African Ernie Els and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England in Thursday's opening round.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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