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Phil Mickelson makes season debut at FBR Open

Twice champion Phil Mickelson will return to very familiar surrounds when he makes his debut on the 2009 PGA Tour in this week’s Phoenix Open at the TPC Scottsdale.

The American world number four attended the nearby Arizona State University and has been a regular competitor at the event since appearing for the first time as an amateur in 1989.

“It’s always good to be back in the Valley,” Mickelson, 38, told Reuters during preparation for Thursday’s opening round.

“And it’s really cool this year with the (Arizona) Cardinals in the Super Bowl. We’ve had this kind of buzz in San Diego and what it does for the community is wonderful.”

Mickelson, who will be making his 18th consecutive Phoenix Open appearance, won the tournament in 1996 and 2005 and was edged out by compatriot JB Holmes in a playoff for last year’s title.

Hugely popular with the fans, the left-hander has always relished the closing stretch on Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, which features the infamous par-three 16th, the noisiest hole in golf.

“The last few holes here always provide a feeling we don’t get at other tour events but it’s really going to be special now with 16 essentially surrounded by seating,” Mickelson said.

“It’s obviously good for the Thunderbirds and I think the fans are going to love it,” he added, referring initially to the local civic group that runs the tournament.

The Phoenix Open is known for delivering the biggest party on the circuit and its focal point starts and ends on the raucous 16th.

Thousands of spectators cram into the bleachers and sky boxes surrounding the 162-yard hole, many more swarming across the grassed hill that faces the green.

“It’s a phenomenal experience and a lot of fun,” said Holmes, who also won the tournament in 2006. “But it’s hard for club selection because you’ve got adrenalin pumping and the wind, and you do have 20,000 or 30,000 people yelling at you.”

American Chris DiMarco, champion in 2002, accepts the pluses and minuses of the 16th with its grandstand setting.

“It has an unbelievable atmosphere,” he said. “You walk on that hole and you don’t feel like you’re at a golf tournament, you feel like you’re at a football game.

“The hardest thing is calming yourself down because you get pumped walking through that tunnel. It’s an eight-iron (off the tee) and if you miss the green you deserve to get booed.

“It doesn’t matter what hole you’re on, you can hear it. It doesn’t matter if you’re on number three, number six, you can hear it.”

Although Mickelson is likely to start Thursday’s opening round as the tournament favourite, he faces a strong challenge on the Stadium Course where seven of the world’s top 20 will be in action.

Sixth-ranked Australian Geoff Ogilvy, Korean-American Anthony Kim (ninth), Colombian Camilo Villegas (10th) and U.S. players Kenny Perry (15th), Steve Stricker (16th) and Stewart Cink (17th) are also competing this week.


January 28, 2009

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