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Satisfying Start for Mickelson

February 03, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

LA QUINTA — In his first tournament of the year, Phil Mickelson said he couldn't have hit his driver much worse or scored much better, which added up to a season debut less frustrating than it was promising.

Mickelson, the defending champion, closed with a five-under-par 67 Sunday and moved from a tie for 33rd to a tie for sixth at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

Only David Duval, who tied for fifth in 2000, has had a better title defense than Mickelson in the last 27 years of the Hope, since Johnny Miller won titles in 1975 and '76.

"It's a good week because it's a good barometer to see where you're at," Mickelson said.

And where is he, exactly?

"I drove the ball very poorly and I don't feel I putted well," he said. "But at the same time, I feel very fortunate to have the finish I had."

Mickelson is playing this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where the greens aren't nearly as good as the ones at the Hope. While that might not seem like such a great place for someone who isn't yet confident with his putting, Mickelson thinks differently.

"Even if you're not putting well, everybody else is struggling too," he said.

After rounds of 70-68-63-69-67, Mickelson's total of 23-under 337 was only seven shots off his winning total from a year ago. Mickelson said he sees a lot of reasons to stay positive, that his game might not be far from coming around.

"I am getting closer to where it's starting to click, when I drive the ball on the fairway and I have birdie opportunities because I have a wedge in my hand," he said. "Those are the holes you should birdie. I should be able to go low one of these weeks here."

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