Mickelson starts season in California

Phil Mickelson begins the 2006 United States PGA Tour season in Palm Desert, California, on Wednesday at the 90-hole Bob Hope Classic with hopes of claiming a major championship for the third year in a row.

The 2004 Masters and 2005 PGA Championship winner is the only world top-10 player here and one of only two in the top 20 entered at the $5-million event, a pro-am affair contested over five rounds at four different courses.

The first US mainland event of the season after two openers in Hawaii also features Davis Love, but top-ranked Tiger Woods has never played in the event and Vijay Singh is absent after two weeks on the links in breezy Hawaii.

Woods is expected to begin his 2006 campaign at next week’s Buick Invitational, backed by one of his endorsement sponsors, at Torrey Pines near San Diego.

Mickelson asked organisers not to be paired with celebrities and received the lesser-known grouping he wanted in quest of a $900 000 top prize.

Defending champion Justin Leonard will play alongside two fellow Texans, baseball pitcher Roger Clemens and actor Matthew McConaughey, on Wednesday.

“I’ve defended well at some tournaments in the past,” Leonard said. “I’d certainly like to get off to the same start that I did last year in playing well early in the year.”

American Jason Gore, who sunk out of contention in the final round of the US Open last year, struggled in both Hawaii events and decided to work on his game here. Actor Samuel L Jackson and comedian George Lopez join him on Wednesday.

“I wanted to play here,” said Gore, who lives two hours away.
“I enjoy being in the desert. I like the pro-am format and playing with the celebrities.”

The Classic Club course, which will open to the public on Monday, is 6 647m and was donated to the tournament to give it a place in the rotation.

Other courses used include Bermuda Dunes Country Club, the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club.—Sapa-AFP

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