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2004 - FBR Open

Party atmosphere for top players in Phoenix

Former winners Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson will be in familiar, noisy surrounds at this week's Phoenix Open, the party stop on the PGA Tour which features the rowdiest hole in golf.

Twice champion Vijay Singh, the world number one, will be determined to return to business as usual after taking a rare week off while Mickelson, winner in 1996, can expect huge support after attending nearby Arizona State University.

Singh arrives at the TPC of Scottsdale with one victory already under his belt this season, at the Sony Open in Hawaii, but will be keen to cement his position as the game's leading player with his predecessor Tiger Woods back on the prowl.

Woods, whose five-year reign as world number one was ended by Singh last September, signalled his intentions for 2005 with a three-shot victory at the Buick Invitational two weeks ago.

Woods, however, is not playing this week

Each golf course on the PGA Tour presents its own unique challenge. At the TPC of Scottsdale, the focal point is the infamous 162-yard par-three 16th, widely acknowledged as golf's most raucous hole.

Notorious for its party atmosphere, tournament organisers have constructed more bleachers and 15 additional skyboxes at the 16th to pump up the volume for this year's event.

With up to 8,000 spectators gathered around the hole, many of the players feel as though they are teeing off in a soldout football stadium with their concentration tested to the full.

"It's just different," tournament chairman Bryon Carney told the East Valley Tribune.

"Guys play 25 events a year, they practise by themselves on the driving range their whole life, and here is one hole a year where you have the atmosphere of an ACC championship basketball game.

"The players that don't like it aren't going to like anything that is non-traditional. The younger players will love it."

During the final round of the 2000 Phoenix Open, the spectators cheered when Hal Sutton's tee shot on 16 found a greenside bunker.

"I think there's a pretty damn good party going on out here, and there's a golf tournament lost somewhere in the middle of it," said Sutton, the 2004 U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

Scottsdale favourite Mickelson can expect strong support as he looks to improve on his disappointing finish at last week's Bob Hope Classic, where a closing 71 dropped him into a tie for 12th.

"Hopefully I'll be able to improve on my performance over in Phoenix," U.S. Masters champion Mickelson told reporters. "It's a golf course I love and I was fortunate to win it in '96, and I'll try to repeat that."

Mickelson, however, will have to share 'home' support with two other popular local residents, champion Jonathan Kaye and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, who will be bidding to end a five-year title drought since he won the 2000 Phoenix Open.

Justin Leonard, who last week clinched his first PGA Tour title in two years with a three-stroke victory over Joe Ogilvie and Tim Clark at the Bob Hope Classic, has his sights set on a repeat win this week.

As for Singh, the game's hottest player over the last 18 months, he is in the hunt for a third Phoenix title following his victories in 2003 and 1995.

 

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