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Mickelson must improve his putting

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LOS ANGELES, California -- Phil Mickelson, usually a fast starter on the PGA Tour, is desperately searching for putting form as he heads to California's picturesque Monterey Peninsula for this week's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

The Masters champion, twice a winner at Pebble Beach, has not finished inside the top 40 in his first three events this season and missed the cut at last week's Phoenix Open.

"It's not the start that I want to the year," American Mickelson told reporters at the TPC Scottsdale. "I need to get the putter working.

"I saw improvement, I drove the ball well and hit some good iron shots, but what I didn't do well is putt," the left-hander added, referring to his opening scores of 72 and 69 at the Phoenix.

"I felt awful stroking it, and it doesn't get any easier over at Pebble. The greens at the TPC Scottsdale are very good. You can make a lot of putts, I just didn't do it."

Mickelson, who has made a habit of performing well on the West Coast swing at the start of the PGA Tour season, is otherwise happy with his game.

"It's pretty good," the world number six said. "I felt like I was driving it well, had good control and hit some good iron shots that were the right distance over the last couple weeks.

"I just struggled on the greens. Hopefully, I can get that straightened out for this week."

Tournament champion at Pebble Beach in 1998 and 2005, Mickelson faces a strong field of 180, including four other members of the world's top 10.

Also competing are second-ranked American Jim Furyk, 2004 winner Vijay Singh (seven), Britain's Luke Donald (eight) and ninth-ranked Irishman Padraig Harrington, who makes his first appearance in the event.

Fijian Singh, who won the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii, senses he is back on track after struggling with his putter in his last three PGA Tour events.

"I'm playing well, feeling good and the putter is coming around," said Singh, who shot scores of 67 and 64 over the weekend to tie for seventh at the Phoenix Open on Sunday.


"I was a little disappointed on the first day (at the Phoenix Open)," the three-times major winner added, referring to his opening 71.

"But I figured a few things out, a lack of focus and I'm not putting enough attention on the first day. That's why my first score is so high, pretty poor."

Traditionally, the Pebble Beach tournament has been dominated by the bigger hitters.

Over the last nine years, Mickelson (twice), Tiger Woods (once), Davis Love III (twice) and Singh have all triumphed by muscling their way round the hosting Pebble Beach Golf Links and its sister venues Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills.

This week is likely to be no different with Bob Hope Classic champion Charley Hoffman and fellow American Jeff Quinney, a PGA Tour rookie who has produced top-seven finishes in his last three starts, well worth monitoring.

Another player who always seems to shine at Pebble Beach is 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir.

The left-handed Canadian has finished eighth or better in six of his last seven appearances, including third place last year, second in 2005, fourth in 2004 and third in 2003.

Mickelson is still looking for his first top-40 finish of the season.

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