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Golf: Chrysler Championship

Mickelson aims to stay on path of success

By BOB HARIG and KEITH NIEBUHR
Published October 29, 2004

PALM HARBOR - The sun was going down and it was a bit hazy Thursday evening, but it was still easy to see who was striding up the ninth fairway on the Copperhead course at the Westin Innisbrook Resort and playing their final hole.

It was reigning Masters and U.S. Open champions Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen , performing before a gallery of about 100. Goosen made bogey from a bunker to finish at 2-under 69, and Mickelson birdied from 4 feet to shoot 71.

The Chrysler Championship is Goosen's first U.S. event since winning the Open in June. For Mickelson, who missed a shot at winning all four majors by a total of five strokes, it is the start of looking toward next year.

Mickelson shot 80 on opening day here a year ago and went on to miss the cut, completing his worst season as a pro. Less than three weeks later, he won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and went on to win his first major.

"I didn't touch a club for the rest of the year when I got done with this tournament," Mickelson said. "I was very refreshed when the new year came around. I was excited. I couldn't wait to start the season."

Mickelson worked in the offseason with noted instructors Rick Smith and Dave Pelz and said he plans to do so again.

"Now we're getting together to try to figure out other areas to improve," he said.

TRAFFIC EXPERT: Kirk Triplett , who shot 64 to trail leader Jeff Sluman by two, had not been back to the Copperhead course since the JCPenney Classic folded after the 1999 event. He played in the mixed-team tournament six times. Asked if he learned anything, he quipped: "I know to stay off Highway 19 if at all possible."

BUBBLE WATCH: Brian Gay gained a spot in the field when David Peoples withdrew Wednesday, and the former Florida Gator responded by shooting 69, which put him in good position to make the cut. Gay is one of several players fighting to retain their PGA Tour card. He's 120th on the money list, and only the top 125 are fully exempt for 2005.

"It's a little bit in the back of my mind," Gay said. "But I feel like I'm pretty safe. I've got a little cushion, but I hope I keep playing well."

Of those ranked between 115th and 130th, 12 are here.

Results Thursday were mixed. Kent Jones (124th) shot 64, but Gay, Neal Lancaster (115th) and Aaron Baddeley (122nd) were the only others in that group to break par.

The biggest mover of those on the bubble?

Try Jose Maria Olazabal , who shot 67. He's 146th on the money list, and the two-time Masters champion is not exempt after 2004. Olazabal had 25 putts, which tied for fifth best among all players. He made just one bogey.

IN THE HUNT: Defending champion Goosen matched his opening round from 2003 with 2-under 69. A year ago, he was only three shots out of the lead. This time he's seven back thanks to Sluman's course-record 62, which was posted several hours before Goosen finished.

"The weather must have been really good," Goosen said. "It was much more windy this afternoon. It was a bit more tricky, but if you played well the possibility was there."

Goosen didn't seem upset, but he didn't seem happy either. After 15 holes, he was 4 under, but bogeys on two of his final three holes, both par 4s, kept him out of the top 10.

"I had a chance for a better score but I didn't take it," he said. "I had a poor finish. I hit a couple of bad iron shots coming in and it cost me a couple of strokes. It would have been nice to finish at 4 or 5 under. I'm going to have to get a low one in tomorrow. Hopefully the weather is okay, I can get something low and see how we can do on the weekend."

A second-round 66 here last year moved Goosen into the lead. He won by three over Vijay Singh .

ODDS AND ENDS: Jonathan Kaye 's opening-round hole-in-one with a 3-iron on the 222-yard par-3 17th was the second in tournament history. The first was recorded last year by Stewart Cink , who was one of Kaye's playing partners Thursday. Last year, Sluman's 13th-place showing here moved him into the top 40 on the money list and earned him a spot in the Masters. He finished at 3 under. Mike Weir shot 75 even though he holed a 163-yard shot at the par-4 12th for eagle. It was the third eagle in tournament history on that hole.

[Last modified October 28, 2004, 23:50:16]


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