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Phil Mickelson set for Players title defence

The Players Championship is widely regarded as the unofficial fifth major and Phil Mickelson has given it grand slam treatment while preparing for his title defence this week at Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida.

“It will be the same as other majors for me,” the American world number two told reporters in the build-up for the prestigious PGA Tour event that attracts one of the strongest fields of the year.

“I’ll usually take Monday off at a major, I’ll play a practice round early Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll go off site and get work done on areas of my game that need improvement.”

Left-hander Mickelson, who won last year’s title at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass by two shots, expects a typically tough challenge in firm and fast conditions.

The main difference for the players will be the rough which will exceed the two-inch depth from 12 months ago.

“I don’t know exactly how the course will be set up but I would guess it would be similar to what we saw last year,” Mickelson said.

“The whole point of moving the tournament back into May was to have firmer, faster conditions and not have as thick rough around the greens where you couldn’t recover with short game shots as in years past.”

Last year’s Players Championship was the first to be held in May after the event was pushed back from its traditional date in late March.

“I thought last year it played terrific,” added three-times major champion Mickelson. “I loved the changes. The greens were terrific, too, going to a different grass.

“Not only did they putt great but they were more challenging to get the ball close to the hole.”

Mickelson, who won his 33rd PGA Tour victory at the Northern Trust Open in February, heads a strong field that includes 49 of the top 50 in the 2008 FedExCup points standings.

The notable absentee is world number one and 2001 champion Tiger Woods, who is still recovering after undergoing knee surgery.

British Open champion Padraig Harrington, twice runner-up at Sawgrass, returns to the PGA Tour for the first time since tying for fifth at the Masters three weeks ago.

Although the Irishman is using the tournament as part of his preparations for next month’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, he regards the Players Championship as one of golf’s supreme tests.

“You’ve got to put the four majors up there but this is the best field,” the 36-year-old Dubliner said. “You come back to the same golf course, which adds to the lustre of the event.

“While the others are just that little bit special with the history they have, in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time, this probably will be a major.”

The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, starts on Thursday.

May 7, 2008


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