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Mickelson aims for first win of 2003

While Suzy Whaley chases history as the first woman to compete in the Greater Hartford Open, two-time defending champ Phil Mickelson is looking for his first win since last year's GHO.

A three-peat would be nice, but a fresh start here might be more important.

"It brings back some very fond memories," Mickelson said. "It also provides an opportunity to get things turned around for this year as opposed to feeling pressure to try to win a three-peat."

Mickelson is coming off a tie for 59 at the British Open. He closed out his final round of 78 with a pair of double bogeys. Lefty's best showing was a third place at the Masters in April and he hasn't had a top-10 finish since.

"I really haven't put myself in contention this year. I want to just start playing better as opposed to worrying about the result," he said.

The 6,820-yard Tournament Players Club at River Highlands has rewarded Mickelson's penchant for taking risks. He fired a 6-under 64 in the final round last year to hold off Jonathan Kaye and Davis Love III by a stroke for the title and become the first back-to-back champ.

"It has a number of holes that reward aggressive play," he said. "If I drive well, I typically have a lot of wedges in and am able to make a lot of birdies."

PGA Tour veteran Kenny Perry is on a roll heading into the GHO, which begins Thursday. Perry has won three of his last five Tournaments. Before 2002, Perry had won a total of four in his 17 years on Tour.

"I always knew I could win. I felt very comfortable about my golf game," Perry said. "It's just why now all of a sudden, I don't know."

His driver might have something to do with it. Perry is not missing many fairways these days and leads the PGA Tour in total driving, a combination of distance and accuracy.

"That's always been the best club in my bag. That sets up the whole golf course," Perry said.

British Open winner Ben Curtis withdrew from the Tournament Tuesday, citing fatigue and a need to spend time with his family in Ohio. The major was the Tour rookie's first win.

"That's a life-altering experience for him," Perry said. "It would have been difficult to for him to come here and be prepared mentally to play."

Whaley, a teaching pro from Avon, qualified in September by winning the PGA Connecticut section title. Her appearance has greatly pumped up media interest in the Tournament, one of seven on Tour in need of a title sponsor.

Tournament officials managed to draw about $4 million from state and local sponsors to keep the 52-year-old Tournament afloat for at least one more year. Tournament Director Dan Baker said Wednesday officials are close to announcing a deal with a major sponsor, but would not elaborate.

Whaley's pro-am round, shortened to nine holes because of intermittent rain, drew the largest galleries of the day. Throughout the course, fans wore green "Fore Suzy" buttons, a fund-raiser for the March of Dimes. She posed for photos and signed autographs after several holes.

"The hardest part of this week is getting ready for it," Whaley said. "Being here is the enjoyable part."

 

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