AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson quickly noticed that an overnight storm, which whacked the grounds at Augusta National late Monday night and felled several trees, had collected one of the decades-old magnolias that stand sentry down the club's famous entrance.
There's some thick irony here. Nothing energizes Mickelson like his annual trips down Magnolia Lane en route to the clubhouse, or more quickly reinforces why he fell in love with the game in the first place.
Interestingly, though, it might be the only time all week when he grips anything tightly with both hands and feels compelled to absolutely drive it straight.
Back to defend his title and seek his fourth Masters championship, Mickelson said Tuesday that he will play with two drivers in the bag, and one is a full-blown, sonic boom-inducing howitzer.
Mickelson used two drivers at Augusta when he won in 2006, set up mostly to help him fade or draw the ball. This time, it's about power, so cover your ears and don’t stand in the landing zone, because Lefty is bringing forth the thunder and even got checked out physically to ensure he's ready for blastoff.
That's right -- drivers have interchangeable parts and adjustable biases that can be dialed in to the nth degree, but Mickelson is torque and tweaked and ready to wreak havoc, too.
"This week is the one week where I swing the absolute hardest," Mickelson said Tuesday in an incredibly entertaining interview session. "I've been working out for it. I saw a back specialist last night, just to make sure that my back hangs in there.
"It feels terrific, but I've been working on it for some time to make sure it's strong enough to withstand the type of rotational speed that I'm going to be trying to apply this week, because I believe it's a big advantage if you can move it out there."
Move it or move over -- that ought to be on his license plate frame.
Mickelson is toting the same driver from last week, where he won in Houston thanks to 18 weekend birdies. For you equipment techies, it's a 45-inch model with a low center of gravity and 7.5 degrees of loft. It produces a lower ball flight. That's his stock driver.
The new cannon is an inch longer, has only 5.9 degrees of loft, and features a higher center of gravity to generate a higher ball flight.
We have liftoff.
"They both draw and fade the same," he said. "That's not the purpose of it. I have an inch longer shaft and different loft. It just goes about 15, 20 yards farther."
The set-up at Augusta plays right into his game plan. There's not enough rough to where players can’t get approaches near the green. So he can go all Mickelsonic with comparative impunity. He will jettison his 3-iron and hybrid this week, he said.
"The great thing about Augusta National, whether there's first cut [of rough] or not, you always have a shot and a lie that you can do something with," he said happily. "Sometimes you take on a lot of risk doing that, but you seem to always have an opportunity to recover, and I think the most exciting shot in golf is the recovery shot.
"Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a lot of recovery shots here."
Everybody laughed. Last year was a perfect example. He blew his driver all over the property in at the middle of the final round, but managed to salvage pars. As Mickelson explained two weeks ago at Bay Hill, it's all part of the impractical, tactical assault.
"The reason why I feel and have said that I relax when I get to Augusta and don’t have to play perfectly is because Augusta allows you recovery shots," he said. "If you go in the trees, the limbs are high enough to where you have a swing. Then the question is whether you have a shot. Usually you can play it low, play it high, go around trees, and always have some type of option.
"So I also feel like if I am in trouble and cannot get to the green, I am always able to at least advance it on the ground to up near the green, where I can then take advantage of my short game and get up and down, like I did on Nos. 9 and 10 at last year's Masters.
"I had driven it great all week, hit two bad drives, but I get the ball out in front of the green and make pars. Then make your birdies later."
It's been a winning recipe three times now. Based on the warm-n-fuzzy vibe the place gives Lefty, and the fact that he won in blistering fashion last week, and the oddsmakers have made him the favorite for a fourth Augusta title this week. He won in runaway fashion in the now-defunct Atlanta event in 2006, then won six days later in Augusta.
"When I drive down Magnolia Lane, I get reenergized with the game of golf," Mickelson said animatedly. "I love it and have such a passion for this game. But when I come here it reminds me of that. I could easily forget, week in and week, out playing the PGA Tour, how lucky I am to play this game.
"When I come back to Augusta National, I just remember how much I loved it as a kid, dreamed of playing the Tour, dreamed of playing in the Masters and winning this tournament and being a part of it.
"All of the feelings come back when I drive down Magnolia Lane. It just reinvigorates my passion for the game."
He's certainly full of unbridled enthusiasm. That's a dangerous thought, no? When Mickelson is off the leash and untethered at his favorite place in the world, even the magnolia trees aren’t safe.