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World's top two tee up at Buick Invitational

The PGA Tour season ratchets up several notches at this week's Buick Invitational where world numbers one and two Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are scheduled to make their first appearances of the year.

California-born Woods, by some distance the best player of his generation, will be bidding for his fourth successful title at Torrey Pines Golf Course, and sixth overall.

San Diego native Mickelson has triumphed three times at a venue he knows extremely well, although his return to Tour action had been in doubt because of a respiratory problem.

Mickelson only pronounced himself fit to play on Tuesday after three days of bed rest and antibiotics.

Woods, who has not played competitively since winning last month's Target World Challenge, which he hosts outside Los Angeles, has been a dominant figure at Torrey Pines.

Since tying for third in his debut here in 1998, he has posted a further nine top-10 finishes in nine appearances. His scoring average at the Buick Invitational is a remarkable 68.46.

"There are not too many golf courses you play where you feel very comfortable and that's what I feel here," Woods said on his official Web site.

"Even though they have redesigned the South Course, it's still a wonderful layout and I always enjoy San Diego," he added, referring to changes made by course architect Rees Jones in 2001.

Woods won last year's title by two shots to claim his seventh consecutive victory on the PGA Tour. Only fellow American Byron Nelson, with an astonishing run of 11 titles in 1945, has a superior winning streak on the circuit.

Although Woods is the overwhelming favorite at Torrey Pines, left-hander Mickelson has no shortage of backers at a venue he has known since his childhood.

He relishes playing the two coastal layouts here, the North and the South, and claimed his first title in 1993 after scorching the back nine in five-under 31 for a closing 65.

"This is a tournament that means a lot to me because, growing up from here, I was on the outside of the ropes looking in and dreamed of being a Tour player," Mickelson said.

"It gives me a great feeling that I'm realizing those dreams of playing the Tour."

Mickelson, who also triumphed at Torrey Pines in 2000 and 2001, is scheduled to tee off in Thursday's opening round at 0850 local (1650 GMT) on the North Course.

This week's field features five of the world's top 10 with fourth-ranked Jim Furyk, South Korea's K.J. Choi (seventh) and South African Rory Sabbatini (ninth) also taking part.

American Furyk, who has missed the cut in his only two previous starts at Torrey Pines, is one of several players eager to compete this week to prepare for the U.S. Open.

The second major of the year is being held for the first time at Torrey Pines from June 12-15.

"This is an event that I haven't historically played but I'm adding it in because I want to get a view of the golf course before the U.S. Open," said Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields.

Although conditions will be very different in June, twice major champion Mark O'Meara believes a sneak preview at this week's Buick Invitational will be well worth the while.

"You can never learn too much," he told reporters at Torrey Pines on Tuesday.

"The greens aren't going to be as firm, they aren't going to be as fast as they will be in June, but understanding ball positioning, understanding some of the slopes in the greens, I think it helps."

January 23, 2008


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