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Phil Mickelson returns to action

Joe Durant returns to the site of his greatest triumph. Phil Mickelson just returns.

The PGA Tour makes its way back to the mainland Wednesday for the 90-hole Bob Hope Classic, which will feature Mickelson's first action since August.

Ranked second in the world, Mickelson has not appeared in a tour event since last year's NEC Invitational. He decided to sit out the rest of the season following the birth of his second child.

"I'm confident I'll be able to make up the ground over the next few events," he said. "My excitement level for the game is at an all-time high. I can't practice hard enough and I don't have enough time on the range."

Mickelson also was suffering from heartbreak, having come within a stroke of a playoff with David Toms at the PGA Championship. He ended up extending his career-long major drought to 38 events.

There was no drought in the California desert last year for Durant, who came from nowhere to record the PGA Tour 90-hole scoring record of 36-under-par 324 -- good for a four-shot win over Paul Stankowski.

Durant, who also set 36-, 54- and 72-hole records, had not placed better than 29th in his first four starts and had just four top-10 finishes the previous two seasons.

A Florida native, Durant went on to win his second straight start two weeks later at the Genuity Championship in his home state. It was his third career title in 134 PGA Tour appearances.

Durant continued to play well through early May, finishing second at the Houston Open among his five top-10s. But his season quickly went south as he missed nine of his last 12 cuts, relinquishing a spot on the United States Ryder Cup team.

The 37-year-old Durant opened the 2002 season by tying for 20th at the Mercedes Championships, then tied for 54th at last week's Sony Open.

Sony Open champion Jerry Kelly is entered. He won for the first time in 200 career starts last week, making a birdie at the par-5 18th hole to hold off John Cook by a stroke.

Cook also is here. He has won this event twice among 10 career titles and could have had an 11th last week if not for a ringing cell phone at the par-3 17th, which he bogeyed after finding a greenside bunker.

The field also includes reigning British Open champion and 1999 Bob Hope winner David Duval, Toms and their Ryder Cup teammate, Scott Verplank.

Tiger Woods is skipping his second straight PGA Tour event.

The 2002 schedule opened with two events in Hawaii. Spanish star Sergio Garcia won the Mercedes Championships but is not at La Quinta this week.

The Bob Hope Classic is a celebrity-filled pro-am that uses four courses and establishes a cut after 72 holes. The host course, which is used for the final round, is the PGA West/Palmer Course -- the site of Duval's 59 in the final round of the 1999 event.


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