Despite back, Mickelson will play in Phoenix Open - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Despite back, Mickelson will play in Phoenix Open

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Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 7:22 pm

Phil Mickelson is going ahead with his Phoenix Open title defense after testing his ailing lower back on Wednesday at exclusive Whisper Rock.

"I had a good practice session, though I didn't go full speed for much of it," Mickelson said in a statement. "I feel fine. I expect to play and play well."

He first felt soreness two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, and then withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open on Friday after making the cut at Torrey Pines. He flew to Georgia to see back specialist Tom Boers and was told his facet joints locked up.

Last year at TPC Scottsdale, the former Arizona State star opened with an 11-under 60 and matched the Phoenix Open record of 28 under. He was set to make his 25th start in the event that he also won in 1996 and 2005.

Mickelson lived in the Phoenix area for 12 years.

"If it was any other tournament I'd skip it," Mickelson said this week. "But I'm defending, it's my second hometown and I love the event."

Lefty also said he expects to play next week at Pebble Beach, where he's a five-time champion. He is skipping Riviera and the Match Play Championship because his oldest daughter has spring break a week earlier than his other two children.

On Thursday at TPC Scottsdale, the 43-year-old Mickelson was scheduled to open play on the 10th tee in a morning group with Bill Haas and Ryan Moore.

While Mickelson now lives near his hometown of San Diego, Torrey Pines winner Scott Stallings is setting up a winter base in Scottsdale. He also is joining Whisper Rock, the club where Mickelson and other tour players are members.

"My wife and I are renting in Scottsdale at Grayhawk, so we are five minutes away from here," Stallings said. "I have been playing and practicing out of here, actually also at Whisper Rock — went through the whole process and we are going to make somewhat of a winter home out here. Especially, with the vile weather that's been in the South, I don't miss that at all. We miss our families, but I don't miss that weather at all."

Stallings won Sunday in San Diego for his third tour title. "That venue and that event was very special and a huge stepping stone in my career," he said.

Stallings is getting over an illness that also hit his wife and son.

"Honestly, if you asked me yesterday, I'd say there is no way I'm playing in the tournament," he said. "The Mayo Clinic and the tournament got me hooked up with some good doctors and nurses, all kind of IVs and fluid and stuff like that. I'm a completely different person than I was yesterday."

Patrick Reed is coming off a victory two weeks ago in California in the Humana Challenge. Riding a self-described "putting coma" at La Quinta, Reed opened with three straight 9-under 63s and closed with a 71 for a two-stroke victory.

"The greens, when I first saw them, there were a couple brown spots on them, and I thought that meant it was going to be not rolling very true, but I didn't see any putts really hop," Reed said about TPC Scottsdale. "Whenever you have greens like that that are just really pure, just like they were at Humana, I'm excited."

Lee Westwood is making his first start in the event. He also played last week at Torrey Pines, in part because of the tour's new wraparound schedule.

"Normally, I would go play the Middle East swing. I would go and play Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Dubai or two of those three," the Englishman said. "I decided not to go this year and wanted to play a few more events in the States.

"If you don't play these, then you're giving up a big start, because they have played six before the season, so it started last year. So it's like a quarter of the schedule gone if you don't start until Pebble or L.A., so it makes sense to play a couple of these."

Mickelson's decision to play cost Ryo Ishikawa a spot in the field. The Japanese player tied for seventh last week at Torrey Pines, but didn't get into the Phoenix Open as a top-10 finisher because the field was full before that entry category.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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