Mickelson Cautiously Optimistic at FBR

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2006 FBR OpenSCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Phil Mickelson loves the FBR Open, and the feeling is mutual.
 
He used to live in Scottsdale, and the rowdy crowds that flood the Tournament Players Championship Course still consider him one of their own. Mickelson won the tournament twice, in 1996 and last year, when he tied the course record with an 11-under-par 60 in the second round.
 
It was his best 18-hole score and, he said, the best round of his life.
 
'This is one of my favorite weeks,' Mickelson said Wednesday before his pro-am round. 'There's a feeling we get at this course, with this many people, that we don't get anywhere else. It's pretty cool to have a chance to have won it now a couple of times.'
 
Mickelson and Vijay Singh lead a field that will begin play Thursday on the par-71, 7,216-yard course. Tiger Woods hasn't played in the event since 2001. He reportedly is getting $3 million to play in this week's Dubai Desert Classic.
 
So Mickelson is everybody's favorite in a tournament he hopes will kick-start his season, just as it did last year. Mickelson had an erratic final round to finish two shots behind Woods, Jose Maria Olazabal and Nathan Green at last weekend's Buick Invitational. Woods won the tournament in a playoff.
 
'I've had a couple of chances but haven't really played very well,' Mickelson said. 'But I've been able to get the ball in the hole and get in contention.'
 
He said he's made a few adjustments after talking with instructors Rick Smith and Dave Pelz.
 
'I think I may have ironed out a few things,' Mickelson said. 'I went out and played yesterday, and it seemed to be a little bit better, so I'm cautiously optimistic about playing well this week.'
 
The left-hander's big drives should bounce even farther on the dry fairways.
 
The Phoenix area has gone a record 105 days without rain, and sunshine with temperatures in the mid to high 70s is forecast through the weekend. Sprinklers can do only so much to soften the terrain.
 
'It will be a matter of guys trying to hit driver, trying to knock it on the surface of (the par-5) 17, trying to have short irons or mid irons into the par 5s. I think the weather will be a big factor,' Mickelson said.
 
Booming shots should mean shrinking scores, unlike last year, when wind played havoc with the first round.
 
'The first day was brutal,' Mickelson recalled. 'Balls were rolling off the greens, and yet we still played, and you just tried to hang in there, and then when the wind died down, turn it on and try to make some birdies.
 
'This week I think it's going to be more of a shootout. It looks like it's going to be beautiful weather. I think we're going to see a lot of low scores.
 
Mickelson has earned $1.6 million at the FBR Open, formerly known as the Phoenix Open. That's more than any other golfer. This year's winner gets $936,000.
 
Some golfers don't like the raucous atmosphere on the north Scottsdale course, where a crowd of 165,168 was reported for last year's third round. The atmosphere is especially unusual on the par-3 16th hole, where the crowd surrounds the entire hole like a football stadium, cheering boisterously and singing the college fight songs of some of the golfers. They even boo bad shots.
 
Camilo Villegas, the 24-year-old Colombian given a sponsor's exemption to compete, said he can't wait.
 
'I've heard many stories, and I'm looking forward to that 16th tee,' Villegas said. 'Hopefully I'll hit it on the green. I don't want any boos.'
 
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