NINE months have passed since Phil Mickelson shone brightly on that hot Sunday afternoon last July at Muirfield.

This week in the absence of the injured Tiger Woods, Mickelson is the only genuine Augusta competitor to have captured three different major championship titles.

In fact, Mickelson is also just one green jacket away from equalling Woods and Arnold Palmer with four of the most sought after items of apparel in golf, but still three shy of joining Jack Niclaus with six.

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But with the first of the season's big four events just a day away, the five-time major winner confessed he continues to glow in the rewards winning golf's oldest major presented him last summer. "It's already had an amazing impact for me because I feel different," said Mickelson.

"I feel like a more complete player because I won the Open. I always felt like there might be a shortcoming in my game, even though I believed I could win it, I felt I could win it; winning that tournament.

"I feel in my own mind it made me a more complete player to play links golf and play in the wind and play on the ground in a style of golf I never grew up playing."

Mickelson is also confident he has shaken off a niggling oblique muscle strain in his back that forced him out mid-way through the third round of the Valero Texas Open.

The left-hander trails in the betting behind Australian Adam Scott and favourite Rory McIlroy, who dropped one of the best Masters bloopers in some time when he swatted aside the chances of 1991 Masters champion, Ian Woosnam.

McIlroy was asked to estimate how many of the 97 players competing in the Masters were capable of being fitted with an Augusta National member's jacket.

The double-major winner remarked: "Seventy. I mean there's a few past champions that play that might not be able to compete. There might be a few first-timers or a few amateurs that won't compete."

McIlroy was shown the opening rounds draw sheet. Sitting beside him dressed in his Augusta green jacket and acting as moderator was fellow Irishman John Carr.

McIlroy began reading down the list to pick out likely champions and only got to the first name of the second match out when laughter erupted as McIlroy boyishly wrote off the 1991 Masters Welsh-born champion who won at just his fourth attempt. "But looking down the list here there's Stewart Cink," he said.

"Tim Clark, Ian Woosnam, no; John Huh . . . sorry, Woosie," said McIlroy smiling. "But I'm talking about the people that are playing regularly on the PGA Tour."

As the laughter continued, he sheepishly added: "Sorry, Woosie, didn't mean that. Seriously, you've got a lot of guys that can win, that have won PGA Tour events."

Sweden's Henrik Stenson was intent on seeking out Sandy Lyle to remind him of the one shot that every golf addict remembers from the Scot's 1988 Masters triumph.

"As a kid, the only clear memory I have, is when Sandy Lyle hit the 7-iron shot out of the bunker on 18 in '88, and that's my first Masters memory from television," said the Swede. "I used to fall asleep many nights watching the Masters . . . what with the soothing music and the flowers."

Stephen Gallacher was out Tuesday morning playing the back nine in the company of double Masters winner, Jose Maria Olazabal and also Miguel Angel Jimenez.

The Scot will make his Masters debut alongside two players boasting 17 Augusta National appearances between them in past Open Champion Darren Clarke and talented American Nick Watney.