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Bob Hope Classic 2004

Left handers favourite at Bob Hope Classic

Phil Mickelson and Mike Weir have something in common besides being left-handed.

Over the past two years, each used a victory at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic as an early season springboard to the Masters title.

``The (Hope) win for me last year was a huge win because 2003 was the worst year of my career,'' Mickelson said Tuesday. ``By winning, it gave me the belief and the confidence.

``It showed me that what I was working on was carrying over into my game, and that encouraged me to work harder on those same things.''

Mickelson, also the 2002 Hope champion, opens defense of his title Wednesday.

His victory a year ago ended an 18-month winless string. Although he won just once more in 2004, he considers the year his most exciting on the tour.

``To win my first major, the Masters, and be a part of that history, will be something I'll always remember,'' Mickelson said.

Weir, the 2003 Hope champion, went on to don the green jacket at Augusta that year.

He said getting off to a good start during the tour's western swing is huge.

``Nowadays, with the money that we're playing for, they get a $2 million head start on you if you don't play well, and it's tough to play catch-up,'' he said. ``So it's important to play well out here and get some momentum, especially leading into Augusta. It kind of builds your year.''

Weir tied for 13th in the Mercedes Championships in his only other start so far this year.

The five-day Hope, along with Pebble Beach the only pro-am tournaments on the tour, provides players a unique opportunity. They rotate among four courses the first four days, with the field trimmed to the low 70 pros and ties for Sunday's final round at PGA West.

``I obviously love this tournament and I love the courses,'' Mickelson said. ``It's five rounds of golf on four courses. They have wonderful practice facilities. It allows me to get some of the kinks out and also get my short game started.''

He had trouble on and around the greens last week at Torrey Pines, finishing tied for 56th at even par in the Buick Invitational.

Mickelson opts not to play with celebrities during the Hope, saying being on a ``quiet'' course gives him a better opportunity to sharpen his game.

Weir doesn't mind having celebrities in his group. He and comedian George Lopez struck up a friendship after being paired in the Hope last year, and again will play a round together.

Weir said he isn't distracted by the large, often boisterous galleries that follow the celebrities.

``Being out here a long time, we're used to playing in front of big crowds,'' Weir said. ``You're spread out over four different courses, and if you're not in the celebrity field, it's like you're playing on your own. In some regards, it doesn't feel like a tournament.

``When we play in a celebrity group, there's a buzz just like a normal tour event.''

As for the run on lefty winners at the Hope the past three years, Weir said, ``I think it's just coincidence.''

Lopez thinks there may be something to it.

``I just saw Robert Gamez on the range practicing left-handed,'' Lopez quipped.


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