"At Augusta, I think Phil has got the game there now," South African Els told reporters on Wednesday as he prepared for this week's Heritage Classic at Hilton Head, South Carolina.

"The way he's playing the Masters now is phenomenal. And he's relaxed. He doesn't have to win it any more, so he just goes out and goes about his business."

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Mickelson ended a 12-year wait for a major breakthrough at the 2004 Masters, holding off a superb last-day charge by Els with an 18-foot birdie putt at the last.

He secured his second career major at the U.S. PGA Championship last August and oozed confidence throughout the final round at last week's Masters in a closing three-under par 69.

"He's always been a great player around the greens," added Els, also a three-times major winner.

"So I think Phil, almost more than Tiger, has got more Masters in him, maybe. At the Masters, those two guys are definitely the players to beat."

American Chris DiMarco, who was beaten by Woods in a playoff for last year's Masters, disagreed with Els.


"The one thing that I think is that Phil's on a hot streak," DiMarco said.

"Two weeks ago everybody was saying he hadn't won yet, and all of a sudden he's won two tournaments and he's better than Tiger at Augusta. It's funny how that works."

Mickelson romped to victory by 13 strokes at the BellSouth Classic in Duluth, Georgia the week before the Masters.

"Phil is a great player, I have a lot of respect for his game," added DiMarco, who is likely to play with Mickelson at the Ryder Cup in September after the pair flourished in last year's President Cup team competition.

"His game is awesome. But that course (Augusta National) sets up great for Tiger. If he putted at all like he normally putts, I wouldn't say he'd beat him, but it would have been closer."

Woods tied for third at the Masters after a display of uncharacteristically shaky putting which included a pair of missed eagle putts from inside 10 feet on the back nine.

Image credit: Reuters

Widely regarded as one of the best pressure putters in history, the 10-times major champion took 33 putts in the final round. Mickelson took 29.

"Phil was in control of that tournament and what he did to the field in Atlanta, it was amazing," DiMarco said.

"And it's nice to see the confidence that Phil now has in majors, and the calmness. I think you're going to see a lot more majors in Phil, for sure."

The Heritage Classic, the 16th event on the 2006 PGA Tour, starts on Thursday.

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