Originally created 01/24/04

Mickelson off to fast start this season

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson was eager to put his poor 2003 season behind him. Through three days of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, he's well on his way.

Mickelson shot an 8-under 64 Friday to go to 21-under and take the third-round lead. He had a 68 in his first round of the season, followed by a 63 the second day of the 90-hole Hope.

Coming off a winless streak of some 18 months, Mickelson knocked his drives mostly down the middle and was deadly accurate with his irons and putter while playing at PGA West.

Mickelson, the 2002 Hope champion who has slipped from second to 16th in the world rankings, leads 1988 champion Jay Haas and Ben Crane by two shots.

"I've been so looking forward for the year to start and this tournament to come around," said Mickelson, who dropped to 38th on the earnings list last year after being second for three consecutive seasons.

"To have the first three rounds of the year be as low as they were is very encouraging for the work I put in during the offseason."

He tinkered with his swing last year, but went back to basics this winter.

"I can see it paying off in fairways hit through better swing mechanics. I can see it paying off with more birdies with wedges because I'm having better distance control," he said.

"My putting has been much better, and consequently, I've been scoring a lot better."

He rolled in one birdie putt of 18 feet, and two others from 15 feet.

Haas, who turned 50 last month but is in no hurry to join the senior tour, also had a third-round 64 to go to 19-under 197. In addition to winning the Hope 16 years ago, he was runner-up to Mike Weir last year.

Crane shot a 65 to move into contention.

Robert Gamez had a tour record-tying 27 on the front nine and shot a 12-under 60 - one off the 18-hole record - to go to 16 under. Gamez played the 6,478-yard Indian Wells Country Club course, the shortest on the tour and also rated the easiest on the tour for the past three years.

Gamez began his round at No. 10 and had a 33 at the turn when he began a string of four birdies, then chipped in for an eagle from just off the green at No. 5 to go to 9 under for the day.

He parred the next hole, but sank a 20-footer on No. 7 to begin a string of three more birdies to complete the round.

"Well, I guess I finally played well," Gamez said in understatement.

The tour's nine-hole record of 27 is shared by Mike Souchak, Andy North and Billy Mayfair. The record for a round is 59, shared by Al Geiberger, Chip Beck and David Duval. Duval shot his at PGA West in the final round to win the 1999 Hope.

DIVOTS: Second-round leader Kenny Perry and first-round leader Skip Kendall both remained in contention at 16 under. Perry shot a third-round 69 and Kendall a 68. ... Because Mickelson was the 2002 champion and Weir won the Hope last year, if Mickelson wins this one, it will be the first time in tour history that a left-hander has won the same tournament three consecutive years. Only seven left-handers have won on the tour. Bob Charles was the first in the 1963 Houston Open, and Steve Flesch won last year's HP Classic at New Orleans. ... Joe Durant was 23 under through 54 holes of the Hope in 2001. He went on to set a 90-hole tour record of 36-under 324. ... Rocker Alice Cooper is back for his 10th appearance in the pro-am. Cooper plays to a 7 handicap and is boring on the course, one of his partners said, because he's always down the middle and on the green.


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