Thursday, January 24, 2008

How to Get a Solid Field Before a Major

Listen up, St Jude Championship, John Deere Classic, and Bridgestone Invitational...well, not so much Bridgestone. The best way to get solid fields with the unfortunate distinction of being scheduled the week before a major has been discovered. You simply set up your course to eerily mirror the layout that will be played the following week! That's what the Shell Houston Open is doing in anticipation of the Masters the next week. The result? Lefty's coming.

Mickelson, the world's second-ranked player, revealed his decision at the Buick Invitational in La Jolla, Calif. He cited as a major factor the SHO's efforts to set up the Tournament Course as a tuneup for Augusta National Golf Club.

The SHO runs the week before the Masters, which features firm-and-fast playing conditions and little rough. Tournament director Steve Timms tried the Augusta approach last year, when the SHO moved from its old late-April date to the week before the Masters. Mickelson is the third top-10 player to reveal his intention to play in the SHO.

"The tournament director (Timms) came up to me last year and said, 'You know, I just wanted you to know we're really making an effort to have the golf course match up to the Masters,' " said Mickelson, whose 32 PGA Tour victories include three major championships. " 'We're going to have the rough the same height, green speed the same, practice facilities to accommodate. And I thought that was really cool, and it provides a great spot to get ready for the Masters."

The combination of setup and date already had produced early commitments from Ernie Els (No. 5), defending champion Adam Scott (No. 8) and two-time SHO winner Stuart Appleby. Timms said that he didn't realize his pitch to Mickelson was successful.

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