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Begay hoping for return to form after injury

Notah Begay is back on tour for the first time in two months, hoping to reclaim the touch that led him to consecutive victories in 2000.

A year ago, Begay came to the St. Jude Classic having missed five of 10 cuts and answering more questions about a DUI conviction than his golf game. He found himself in an eerily similar position Wednesday, this time talking about his aching back as he readies for his first tournament since the Masters.

``If it's not one thing, it's another,'' Begay said with a smile. ``I can't really seem to get the ball rolling in my favor. But hopefully, I'll come through just like I did and maybe this will be a good springboard like it was last year.''

Begay jump-started himself with a one-stroke victory over Bob May and Chris DiMarco at this tournament sponsored by FedEx. He turned around and won the Greater Hartford Open a week later in a year that saw him finish 20th on the season's money list.

Unfortunately, he strained his back lifting weights during the offseason, and that injury has limited him most of this year. His best finish came in January with a 32nd in the Mercedes Championship, and he has missed five cuts in seven events.

After missing the cut at the Masters, doctors told Begay that only rest would heal his back. That is why he took off eight consecutive tournaments. He went nearly a month before picking up a club again, and estimates his back is only 85 percent to 90 percent healed.

He isn't sure how it will hold up when he swings really hard, but he couldn't stay away from trying to defend his St. Jude title even if his back will force him to play with a more laid-back approach than usual.

``I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to come back as champion. I'll hopefully do the best I can,'' Begay said.

Most of the players here this week are tuning up for next week's U.S. Open, including Phil Mickelson, who is in the St. Jude for the first time in his career. The TPC at Southwind course is similar to Southern Hills, especially the greens, and Memphis also offers a similar climate to what golfers will find in Tulsa.

``I'm looking to play well and get in contention and get an opportunity to hopefully come through on Sunday,'' Mickelson said. ``I'm in the belief that if I do that, I should be mentally ready for the U.S. Open.''

Begay said he would like to start his own hot streak here, but he tagged Mickelson as the favorite to win this weekend. Mickelson let final round leads slip away in New Orleans and at Colonial and has finished second three times and third four, but he said he is ready for that kind of pressure.

``It's better than the guy you discount as, `He's not going to play well.' That's no fun. I enjoy that side of it. I enjoy being looked at as one of the favorites and one of the guys people are gunning for sure,'' Mickelson said.

Divots: Gary Nicklaus, who qualified for the U.S. Open at a sectional on Monday, withdrew from the tournament. ... David Gossett, a Germantown, Tenn., native, has been playing on the Tour but is entered here on a sponsor's exemption. ... Rain, which caused trouble last weekend at the Memorial, delayed play twice Wednesday and washed out a pro-am that had been shortened to nine holes.

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