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"Big Three" becomes "Big Four"

When the 2005 golf season began, all the talk centred around the 'Big Three'; Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

But all the chatter of the last two weeks has been about the next man in line -- Phil Mickelson.

While Mickelson is ranked fourth in the world, 'Lefty' has been playing like number one, claiming back-to-back PGA Tour titles for the first time in his 12-year career with a four-stroke victory over Canada's Mike Weir at the Pebble Beach National Pro Am on Sunday.

The victories have put Mickelson on top of the money list with more than $2 million, boosting his career earnings to more than $31 million. Only Woods and Singh have made more.

But even more impressive have been the record-breaking numbers the U.S. Masters champion has put on the leaderboard over the last two weeks.

Fresh from a five-stroke victory at last week's Phoenix Open, which included a course record-equalling round of 60, Mickelson carried over his blistering form to California's Monterey Peninsula.

The 34-year-old American sounded a warning when he opened with a record 10-under 62, then followed with a 67 to set a tournament 36-hole record.

Mickelson continued to set the pace on Saturday, firing another 67 to add the 54-hole mark to a record-shattering week.

"It feels terrific to follow up last week's performance with another very good performance,' said Mickelson, after registering his 25th career victory and his second at Pebble Beach.

"Sometimes when you play really well and you get it going, it falls away the next week. It's nice to come back and open with a round of 62. It feels great.

"Once I shot a 62 I thought it was a real challenge to back it up with other good rounds."

Following some controversial equipment changes late last year and a less-than-impressive start to the new campaign at the Buick Invitational, Mickelson's place among the top players was being debated.

But after two blistering weeks the talk now is whether Mickelson is embarking on the type of dream season Singh had last year when he won nine titles, more than $10 million and claimed the number one ranking from Woods.

"It's only two weeks," said Mickelson. "I want to use this as a stepping stone, we have a lot of big tournaments coming up, the Players Championships, the Masters...I want to be ready."

While Woods returns to action next week at the Nissan Open, Mickelson, Singh and Els will take the week off.

But the world's top four could all be on the same course the following week at the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play Championship.

"I think it's fun and exciting for me to have a chance to compete against such great players like Tiger, Vijay and Ernie," said Mickelson. "I feel that, after working on the right things for a year, after getting back my distance off the tee, I feel like I'm just able to make a lot more birdies.

"I was able to do that last week in Phoenix, I was able to do that here. I don't want to say the game's easier but it just feels easier."


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