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Phil Mickelson looking to kickstart season

Three-times champion Phil Mickelson returns to a happy hunting ground for this week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am where he will bid to kickstart his 2009 campaign.

The American left-hander has looked rusty in his first two appearances of the year, missing the cut at the Phoenix Open and finishing 42nd at last week’s Buick Invitational.

Usually a strong performer on the West Coast swing at the beginning of the PGA Tour season, world number five Mickelson accepts his overall game needs to improve for this week’s pro-am celebrity event on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula.

“I expected more,” he said of his form at the Buick Invitational where he faded after carding a two-under-par 70 in the opening round. “I thought that I was starting to get it turned around.

“I had a good first round and then the last three I didn’t play well. But I can certainly feel some rust. I didn’t play for over two months and my game’s rusty.

“I spent seven, eight days before this season getting ready and I thought that it was coming together but it hasn’t quite yet. Pretty much all areas of my game could use some work.”

The next two events, Pebble Beach and the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, should give Californian Mickelson a special boost given that he has triumphed at both venues.

“I love playing the West Coast,” the three-times major champion told reporters. “I’ve grown up watching these tournaments and I’ve grown up playing these.

Champion at Pebble Beach in 1998, 2005 and 2007, Mickelson faces a strong field of 180 including five other members of the world’s top 20.

Also competing are third-ranked Irishman Padraig Harrington, Fijian Vijay Singh (fourth), Americans Kenny Perry (10th) and Jim Furyk (14th) and South Korea’s KJ Choi (20th).

Singh, who won the 2004 title, returns to the PGA Tour after a four-week break. The former world number one has not played since the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, having had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

“I don’t consider this a big setback or anything,” said the smooth-swinging Fijian, who tore his meniscus before winning the Tiger Woods-hosted Chevron World Challenge in December.

“I think the knee will be much stronger in the long run and it is certainly better that it happened now compared to the middle of the season.”

As usual, this week’s event will be played on three courses — the hosting Pebble Beach Golf Links and its sister venues Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills.

American Steve Lowery defends the title he won last year in a playoff with Singh.


February 11, 2009

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