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Phil Mickelson hoping for Northern Trust title defence

World number five Phil Mickelson defends his title at this week’s Northern Trust Open where he will be searching for form after a shaky start to the year.

The left-hander has looked rusty in his first three tournaments, missing the cut at the Phoenix Open, finishing 42nd at the Buick Invitational and tying for 55th at last week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

This week he faces a typically strong field at Riviera Country Club where world number three Padraig Harrington heads a line-up featuring 10 of the top 20 players.

“I’ve been fighting to get my scores down and I’m making some big mistakes score-wise,” Mickelson, 38, told reporters in the build-up to the seventh event on the 2009 PGA Tour.

“It’s been more challenging for whatever reason to get my game sharp. My game has been a little rusty but it doesn’t feel far off.”

The triple major champion, usually a strong performer on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, will be banking on happy memories of Riviera from 12 months ago.

“I certainly enjoyed the tournament last year,” he said, referring to his two-shot victory over fellow American Jeff Quinney after a gripping final-round duel.

“The last two years have been fun for me to play at the Northern Trust and the golf course is one of the best we have on Tour. It is such a visually stimulating course and a very challenging shot-making course.

“I don’t know why I had not played well here in the past but, for whatever reason, the last two years I’ve really played well. It’s been a big reason why I am planning on making the Northern Trust a permanent stop on my schedule.”

For the last two years at Riviera, Mickelson has benefited from spending more time at home with his family by taking the aerial route to the tournament from where he lives in Rancho Santa Fe outside San Diego.

“Staying at home, seeing my kids for dinner at night and sleeping in my own bed has been a big factor as to why I’ve played well the last two years,” he said.

“I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier. This year I am going to do the same thing.”

Mickelson has a one-hour commute by air for the 192-km journey to Riviera via nearby Santa Monica airport.

Other leading players in this week’s field include world number four Vijay Singh of Fiji, eighth-ranked Australian Geoff Ogilvy, American Kenny Perry (10th) and South African Ernie Els (13th).

Also competing are Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, champion here in 2003 and 2004, South African Rory Sabbatini, winner in 2006, and Japanese schoolboy sensation Ryo Ishikawa.


February 18, 2009

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