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Phil Mickelson seeking first win of season

Phil Mickelson will surprisingly be hunting his first victory of the year when he defends his title at this week's BellSouth Classic in Duluth outside Atlanta, Georgia.

The American left-hander has made a habit of winning early on in the PGA Tour season, more often than not on the West Coast swing.

This year, though, he has been let down by his putting and chipping, despite four top-10 finishes in his first seven starts.

"I spent some quality time on trying to address those needs and my game feels like it's coming around," twice major winner Mickelson told reporters after tying for 14th in the Players Championship on Sunday.

"It obviously wasn't the result I wanted at the Players but I felt like I played well for four days.

"I was pleased with that and hopefully I'll have a good tournament in Atlanta and get momentum for Augusta."

The BellSouth Classic, which Mickelson won for the second time in a five-way playoff 12 months ago, is followed by the April 6-9 U.S. Masters at Augusta National.

Masters champion two years ago, Mickelson has spent the last two days taking a look at the lengthened Augusta layout before completing his BellSouth preparations in Wednesday's pro-am tournament.

"I've always played the three-week stretch of the Players, Atlanta and the Masters," the world number four added. "It's been a great stretch for me.

"The greens at Sawgrass (host venue for the Players) are the same grass, the same contours and comparable speed to Augusta.

"Maybe not quite as fast, but they're pretty close. That challenge of getting the ball to the lag putt, hitting the ball close and manufacturing up and downs, they are very similar shots to what we play in Augusta."

Before the Masters, though, Mickelson has the BellSouth title in his sights, and a quality field which includes four of the world's top 10.

Apart from U.S. PGA champion Mickelson, third-ranked Retief Goosen, David Toms (eighth) and Britain's Luke Donald (10th) are also teeing off in Thursday's opening round at the TPC at Sugarloaf.

While several players like top-ranked Tiger Woods take this week off to prepare for the year's first major, many more journey to Duluth to fine-tune their games in tournament play.

Other big names in this week's field include Davis Love III, who will be keen to bounce back from his second-round 83 at the Players, twice Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal and eight-times European number one Colin Montgomerie.

Twelve months ago, Mickelson clinched his 26th PGA Tour title after being taken to a fourth extra hole by fellow American Rich Beem in a rain-hit tournament.

Mickelson triumphed by rolling in a birdie putt on the 17th. The five-way playoff also included India's Arjun Atwal, American Brandt Jobe and Olazabal.

March 29, 2006


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