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Free-swinging Mickelson always heeds call of wild

Jack London, the great old adventure writer, would have loved Phil Mickelson.

How do we know? Because he wrote this:

"I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy, permanent planet."

Who does that sound like? David Toms? Zach Johnson?

You want adventure? Follow Mickelson around Augusta National, where he's trying to win his fourth Masters championship and you'll see why they call him Phil The Thrill.

"It's a playground for Phil and he has great imagination, so when he gets in these places, he gets very excited, to have these difficult shots," Freddie Couples said. "He reeks confidence and electricity for this place. ... He loves it here."

Mickelson came in hot off a victory in Houston and was established as the favorite to win his second straight Masters. His eyes were bright when he talked about what was ahead this week. But Friday afternoon, after a ragged 72 left him far off the pace, he wasn't so cheerful, but he was defiant.

"These next two days are my favorite days of the year, the weekend of the Masters," he said. "There's nothing better than playing the weekend here at Augusta, and to be a couple under par in a position where with a good round in the mid-60's, you can make up a lot of ground out here. I was able to do it last year and I'm going to have to make a good run tomorrow, too."

He closed with a pair of 67s last year and slipped into the green jacket.

Earlier this week, Mickelson told us he was going to swing as hard on the tees as he could. When have you ever heard a pro say that? Plus, he's carrying two drivers, one of them just to hit over a couple of fairway bunkers. Once he tried playing the U.S. Open without a driver. His swing coach, Butch Harmon, said: "That's Phil."

Other players just shake their heads.

Whaling away Thursday, Mickelson hit only four fairways in the first round, which left him dead last in that category.

"At Augusta, you don't have to be perfect," he said, and proved it by bringing in a 2-under-par 70, the product of his magical short game.

Friday, he was off key with the short stuff, which is like Paula Deen burning the biscuits. It doesn't happen.

On the front nine, he had three pars, three birdies and three bogeys. Even par the hard way. There was another bogey and another birdie early on the back nine, then all pars for a 72 that left him well off the pace. He missed only five fairways, but he fussed about all the chances he missed from close in.

"But that's all in the past," he said, "and we've got the weekend to look forward to."

All of us.