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Singh looking for title defence in Phoenix

Vijay Singh got off to a quick start in his career season by winning last year's Phoenix Open.

Now Singh carries a string of 10 consecutive top-10 finishes into a renamed tournament in his bid for a repeat title. If he finishes high at the FBR Open, Singh will have the most consecutive top 10s since Greg Norman ran off 11 straight in 1993-94.

``I'm feeling really good every time I tee it up,'' he said. ``I've been working very hard with my game and my physical condition, so I don't feel like when I tee it up in the last two events, and especially this one, that I'm not going to play well.''

Singh won the 1998 PGA Championship, 2000 Masters and nine other PGA Tour titles through 2002, but wasn't regarded as a threat to Tiger Woods' supremacy until last season.

Then Singh won four times in 2003 and ended Woods' four-year run as the PGA Tour's top money-winner by earning $7,573,907 -- more than $900,000 ahead of the game's marquee performer.

The self-contained Fijian, who honed his skills hitting golf balls in the shade of a mango tree outside the airport where his father worked, had more top-10 finishes (18) last year than anyone since Tom Kite in 1981.

The last eight were in a row, and Singh kept up the pace this season, finishing second and tying for 10th in back-to-back tournaments in Hawaii.

It's the kind of consistency needed for the money crown. But Singh, whose first win on the TPC of Scottsdale course came in 1995, is thinking championship every time out now as he tries to overtake Woods in the world rankings.

``My ultimate goal is to take the (No.) 1 spot, but there's a guy out there that's not playing too badly either,'' he said. ``Right now I feel like I could win more tournaments to get the No. 1 spot. Finishing top 10 is not going to get me (there).''

Singh shot a final-round 63 last year to beat John Huston by three strokes in 23-under-par 261.

This year, Singh could become the fourth player to win three times at Phoenix, joining Arnold Palmer (1961-63), Gene Littler (1955, 1959, 1969) and Mark Calcavecchia (1989, 1992, 2001).

Even so, Singh doesn't have the spotlight to himself -- not with Calcavecchia, Fred Couples, Mark O'Meara, Retief Goosen and Phil Mickelson in the 132-player field.

Mickelson, a former Arizona State University star and the 1996 Phoenix champion, is a favorite with the huge galleries.

He is coming off the worst season in his 11-year career, but has improved his balance and flexibility through martial arts workouts. The results were evident last week when he beat Skip Kendall in a playoff to win the Bob Hope and snap a stretch of 31 tournaments without a win.

The left-hander led the Hope with 37 birdies and ranks first on the Tour in birdie average (7.40), better than one per round more than the second-place Woods.

Mickelson has always played well on desert courses, which suit his go-for-broke style, and believes it will take that kind of play to win on a 7,216-yard layout lengthened and redesigned to make two relatively easy back-nine holes more exacting.

``You look at Mark Calcavecchia, he's a very aggressive player, makes a lot of birdies,'' Mickelson said. ``That's the type of player that is going to win here. Rocco Mediate makes a lot of birdies. He's an aggressive-style player. This course has a great risk-reward.''

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