It Looks Like Another Clean Break for Lefty

Times Staff Writer

He hasn’t played a regular PGA Tour event in three months, he practiced only six days in the off-season and he didn’t play a practice round this week, so how can it be that Phil Mickelson is 13 under par and only six shots off the lead with 36 holes to go at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic?

It’s probably because Mickelson could stow his skis in the garage, dust off his golf clubs, fall off his recliner and still shoot a four-under 68, like the one he hurled at the Classic Club on a mostly windless Friday in Palm Desert.

There’s still a long way to go in this $5-million exercise in birdies, but you can be sure that Mickelson has managed to get everyone’s attention with his three successive rounds in the 60s, despite having spent nearly as much time taking daughters Amanda, 6, and Sophia, 4, on ski trips to Beaver Creek, Colo., as he spent practicing.


“That is pretty impressive, to be able to do that,” said Chad Campbell, who hasn’t done so badly himself, although he has been spending a lot more time in the office than Mickelson.

Campbell, who began the day with a four-shot lead, ended it leading by the same margin after his third-round 68 on the Palmer Course at PGA West. It has been a consistent season start for Campbell, who has led or shared the lead in four of his first seven rounds. He’s at 19-under 197.

Scott Verplank and John Senden are closest to Campbell at 201, and both of them made the most of a calm day at the Classic Club. Verplank had a 65 and Senden a 68. The Classic Club played to an average score of 71.16 and even though it was once again the most difficult course in the rotation, it still was more than two shots easier than it had been Thursday, when wind gusts were recorded as high as 25-30 mph.

Verplank was grateful for not having to play in the wind.

“I feel sorry for those guys who had to play here yesterday ... but not that sorry,” he said. “Sounds good, anyway, that you feel sorry for them.”

Verplank and Senden are two shots ahead of Pat Perez, Billy Andrade and Mickelson. Perez had a 70 at Bermuda Dunes and Andrade had a 67 at PGA West.

England’s Justin Rose had a 64 at La Quinta to move into a tie at 12-under 204 with five others, including two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen.


Campbell was four under through nine holes. He couldn’t do much on his back nine, but settled comfortably into his role as leader and even said he has been enjoying his dining-out experiences in the desert.

“It’s relaxing,” he said.

In fact, Campbell is sailing along so smoothly, he wasn’t even upset by making his first bogey in 60 holes. He did it at the eighth, his 17th hole, when he drove into a fairway bunker, found a greenside bunker and couldn’t get his 20-foot par putt to drop.

But, hey, a four-shot lead is still a lead, even if Campbell said it’s not really all that much.

“I don’t think any lead is safe,” he said.

That would appear to be a factor in Mickelson’s favor, but not the only one. He plays Bermuda Dunes today and that’s the most user-friendly course of them all. After his sessions with short-game guru Dave Pelz and swing coach Rick Smith, Mickelson said he was ready and eager to take on the season, which is a good mind-set to have before playing six tournaments in a seven-week stretch.

“I was really rusty and not really sure how it was going to go [this week],” he said. “I had six good days of work with Rick Smith and Dave Pelz before the tournament, so I was somewhat optimistic. But, still, after not having played for a few months, you’re never quite certain know things are going to go.”

Mickelson played the same early-season schedule last year and went on to win consecutive tournaments, at Tucson and Pebble Beach, and won his second major in two years, at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol. He also won the BellSouth before the Masters and earned $5.699 million.


But except for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in November, a two-day special event in Hawaii, Mickelson hasn’t played a regular tournament since he missed the cut at Las Vegas in mid-October.

A three-month break is the right way to prepare to play competitive golf, Mickelson said.

“The last month, I was itching to go play and I kind of fought myself to not go practice.... Now I’m excited to play.”

If those words sound familiar, they should. They’re almost identical to what Mickelson said in January 2004, just before he won his second Bob Hope.

“Yeah,” Mickelson said. “That’s exactly it.”