Mickelson Gearing Up for Masters

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BellSouth ClassicDULUTH, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson enjoys using the BellSouth Classic to prepare for the Masters the following week.
 
This is his last chance.
 
Mickelson, a two-time BellSouth Classic winner, says the tournament helped prepare him to win the 2004 Masters -- his first title in a major. But this will be the eighth and final year the BellSouth Classic, which begins Thursday, will be played the week before the Masters.
 
The tournament at the TPC at Sugarloaf moves to May next year as it searches for better weather. But with the move the tournament in this Atlanta suburb loses the appeal of playing so close to the Masters in dates and location.
 
'It's set up just perfectly,' Mickelson said Wednesday when asked about the tournament as practice for the Masters.
 
'It's great for the guys that came here to get ready for Augusta,' he said.
 
Chris DiMarco, who has three top-10 BellSouth finishes, said 'the weather will be better for sure' in May. But he said players will lose 'a great tuneup for Augusta.'
 
'Green speeds are very similar,' DiMarco said. 'It's always a great tuneup and I always look forward to playing in Atlanta.'
 
Mickelson said he spent Monday and Tuesday playing the Augusta National course, and he said the Duluth course is 'similar.'
 
Mickelson, who won the 2005 BellSouth in a playoff, doesn't know if he will follow the tournament to its new slot in May.
 
The Houston Open will be played the week before the 2007 Masters.
 
Mickelson said he would not play in Houston next year because the Houston course 'is nothing like what's here in Atlanta and what BellSouth does for this tournament to make it as close to Augusta conditions as possible.'
 
'I will end up not playing the week before the Masters,' he said. 'I'll have to find another way to get ready.'
 
Mickelson tied for 14th in The Players Championship last week.
 
'I feel as though this year I have started to play consistent golf, but I have to get over that hump a little bit,' he said. 'This week will be a good test for me to see if I'm improving.'
 
The BellSouth has been hounded by bad weather. The tournament has enjoyed four consecutive good weather days only twice during the last seven years.
 
Morning fog reduced Wednesday's pro-am to a 9-hole event, but that may be the only weather issue of the week. The forecast is unusually good for the rest of the week.
 
Last year the first two rounds of the tournament were rained out. The third round was played in 30-degree wind chills, snow and sleet.
 
Eight of the top 20 PGA TOUR money winners are in the BellSouth field.
 
Rory Sabbatini, the PGA TOUR's 2006 leader with earnings of more than $2.2 million, will join Mickelson as one of the tournament favorites.
 
Other earnings leaders in the field: No. 4 David Toms, No. 8 Luke Donald, No. 9 Arron Oberholser, No. 12 Retief Goosen, No. 17 Davis Love III, No. 18 Jose Maria Olazabal and Mickelson, at No. 20.
 
Donald and Olazabal were 4 under in Wednesday's 9-hole pro-am. Mickelson was 1 under.
 
Olazabal was one of four golfers who joined Mickelson in last year's playoff. The other three -- Brandt Jobe, Arjun Atwal and Rich Beem -- also return this year.
 
Mickelson also won the BellSouth Classic in 2000, another year bad weather limited the tournament to 54 holes.
 
'Having to play all 72 is going to be a challenge,' Mickelson said with a laugh.
 
Notes:
DiMarco missed The Players Championship last week with sore ribs following a fall while skiing. He said he is fully recovered. ... European Tour star Colin Montgomerie withdrew from the field Tuesday, choosing to prepare for the Masters by working out in private, according to his manager. Montgomerie missed the cut last week at The Players Championship.
 
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