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Tiger and Phil Closer Than Ever at Augusta

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were in high spirits during their Tuesday practice round together at Augusta.
Watching Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson laugh together and fist bump at Augusta would have seemed almost inconceivable at earlier points in their careers but their growing warmness towards each other is by no means indicative of a fading desire to win.

Woods, 42, and Mickelson, 47, joined forces in Tuesday's practice round for a friendly teams match against Fred Couples and Thomas Pieters before Woods opened up about his respect for his older rival.

“Our friendship has gotten stronger over the years,” Woods said.

“I think it’s just age as well. We’re at the tail end of our careers and we both know that.

“We’ve had a great 20-year battle, hopefully we have a few more.”

Nowhere have Woods and Mickelson shared more battles down the stretch than at Augusta.

Woods is chasing a fifth Green Jacket and Mickelson – a three-time Masters champion – may yet stand in his way.

“He’s very, very competitive, he’s feisty, he’s determined, he always wants to win and it has served him well,” Woods said.

“He believes in himself an awful lot and you see the chances he’s taken over the years. The reason why he does it is because he knows he can do it.

Woods’ non-playing roles on recent Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams have allowed him to form closer ties with many of his younger countrymen but also spend quality time with his age-old foe, which Mickelson alluded to in his press conference.

“We have always had a respect and an appreciation for each other, but I believe coming together to work together for a common goal of having success in the Ryder Cup has brought us closer together, and it started about two and a half, three years ago."

They enter this week both with genuine claims of victory but with ageing bodies that have to be managed differently.

Mickelson is aiming to become the oldest Masters champion ever and has started to emulate Woods’ strategy of playing only nine holes each day in the lead-up to Thursday.

“I find that it allows me to not get as tired after practice rounds and also easier to recover and I’m fresher when I do play and compete,” Mickelson said during his press conference.

“I’m also able to hit a lot more shots on those nine holes I’m playing on.

“Tiger’s been doing it for 10 years, I just hadn’t really caught on and taken notice but it’s the right way to do it.”

If Tiger Woods didn't exist, Mickelson's major haul may be much bigger than five but Lefty spoke in glowing terms about Woods.

“Nobody respects and appreciates what he’s done for the game more because nobody’s benefited from what he’s done for the game of golf more than I have," Mickelson said.

“To see him back out playing is incredible. 

“We all feel that. I texted him a while ago when he was playing at Valspar that it felt like it was a different time continuum because I found myself pulling so hard for him. It was unusual.

Preparing for his first Masters since 2015, Woods also shed light on changes to his off-course preparations.

He said he’s begun swimming more often instead of lifting heavy weights to get his body to a point where it hasn’t felt better in up to seven years.

“Now that I’m walking this golf course and playing and then hitting shots and not really thinking about anything, it’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since my back procedure,” the 14-time major winner said.

“My core is stronger, my legs are not quite as strong as they used to be, the endurance is back and I certainly have a lot more mobility in certain parts of my body.

“My practice sessions are nowhere near what they used to be. I’m not on that range just practising hitting golf balls four or five hours like I used to. It’s concentrating for an hour and then I’m out of here.

As to whether a 15th major title on Sunday afternoon would qualify as one of sport's greatest comebacks, Woods gave a typically deflective answer, but he did single out Ben Hogan’s 1950 US Open following a near fatal car accident in 1949 as one of the greatest comebacks in history.

“He got hit by a bus and came back and won major championships.”

Woods’ body has been to a different kind of hell and back but he still has four rounds to play.

RULES: BALL-MARKING ON THE GREEN

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