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Inside the Ropes: Mickelson supporting growth of golf in China

The SportsXchange

They're probably not going to make Phil Mickelson an honorary Chinese citizen anytime soon, but he deserves plenty of credit for helping put China on the golf map with his support on and off the course of the WGC-HSBC Champions.

After a one-year absence, Lefty is back in the field this week for the final World Golf Championships event of the season, which he has won twice, as the event moves after seven years at Sheshen International Golf Club in Shanghai to the Olazabal Course at Mission Hills Golf Club in Guangdong.

"I've had great experiences at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and I am really looking forward to playing in the next edition," the four-time major champion said. "I love competing around the world, and it's truly exciting in the growing markets of Asia and China because there's a real buzz about golf and the fans are so enthusiastic and appreciative.

"Although I have won the title twice, this year we are playing on a new course in a new venue, so I won't have the advantage of my past experiences. This is a world-class tournament, and to win my third title would be a wonderful finale for my season."

Mickelson claimed the HSBC title for the first time in 2007, before it was a WGC event, although there had been talk of it joining the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Lefty overcame six penalty strokes in the final round and blew a three-shot lead with seven holes to play, but he claimed that title with a four-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to turn back Englishmen Lee Westwood and Ross Fisher.

However, he took his best shot when it was over.

"I think that it would be great for the game of golf to continue to bring world-class golf to China," the four-time major champion said. "HSBC has taken the lead; a World Golf Championship would enhance that, and this would be a great venue to host it.

"Shanghai is a wonderful city, and Sheshan is a world-class golf course, and this would be a great place to host it."

The HSBC Champions was taken in under the WGC umbrella in 2009, when Mickelson escaped with a one-stroke victory after leader Ernie Els hit his approach into the water on the 72nd hole.

Afterward, Lefty said that it should count as a victory on the PGA Tour, which had not yet fully sanctioned the event, but also took a look at the bigger picture.

"Having been able to win this tournament, having been able to be a part of growing the game in China means a lot to me," said Mickelson, who has only one other international victory, the 1993 Tournoi Perrier de Paris.

"I want to hopefully continue to compete here and help the game of golf grow throughout China, through course design and golf academies, to help see the young players here in China grow into some of the best players in the world."

A year later, the PGA Tour decreed that a victory in the HSBC Champions would indeed count if it was won by a Tour member.

Mickelson will be among the favorites this week in a field that includes defending champion Martin Kaymer, Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Dufner, Mick Watney, Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose. If Lefty remains hot with the putter -- he has improved considerably on the greens since going to the "Claw" grip in August -- he should be right in the mix.

"I guess it's (gotten) more comfortable the more I've used it, but the results have been the same, and that's the ball starting on line, my touch has been good, and I've made a lot of putts," said Mickelson, who has used the new grip while tying for fourth in the Deutsche Bank Championship, tying for fourth in the BMW Championship, tying for 15th in the Tour Championship and going 3-1 in the Ryder Cup.

" ... I don't see me going back anytime soon. I really like it. It's helped me with short putts, and then one of the other side effects has been the touch on longer putts has been great, and on fast greens it's even better because of the softness of my bottom hand. It sits very lightly on the putter, and my touch is better."

If Lefty gets it rolling this week, it could lead to an HSBC hat trick.


PGA TOUR: World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions on the Olazabal Course at Mission Hills Golf Club in Guangdong, China, Thursday through Sunday.

TV: Wednesday through Saturday (in the U.S.), 11 p.m.-3 a.m. (replay, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. the next day), on the Golf Channel each day.

Last year: Martin Kaymer of Germany shot 9-under-par 63 to come from five strokes down with 12 holes to play and win by three strokes over Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden at Sheshen Golf Club in Shanghai. The 2010 PGA champion was at even par for the day when he started his brilliant run by holing a shot for birdie from a deep bunker on the seventh hole. Kaymer birdied nine of the last 12 holes and could have birdied them all. However, he missed a three-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole and had to settle for pars on the reachable par-5 14th and the 288-yard, par-4 16th, but it didn't really matter.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Charles Schwab Cup Championship on the Cochise Course at the Desert Mountain Club in, Scottsdale, Ariz., Thursday through Sunday.

TV: Thursday through Saturday, 4:30-7 p.m. EDT, and Sunday, 3:30-6 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

LAST YEAR: Jay Don Blake sank a 6-foot putt for par on the final hole to claim a two-stroke victory over Mark Calcavecchia, Loren Roberts, Michael Allen and Jay Haas, but the big winner at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco was Tom Lehman. While Blake claimed his first victory on U.S. soil since the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open on the PGA Tour, Lehman tied for 18th and captured the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points title and the $1 million annuity that goes with it after winning three times in 2011. Blake had ended his 20-year winless streak two months earlier in the Songdo IBD Championship in Korea.

LPGA TOUR: Mizuno Classic at Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club in Shima-shi, Mie, Japan, Friday through Sunday.

TV: No live television in the United States.

LAST YEAR: Momoko Ueda of Japan holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to defeat Shanshan Feng of China, winning the Mizuno Classic for the second time in five years. Feng, who earlier this year claimed her first major title at the LPGA Championship, closed with a 7-under-par 65 to catch Ueda, who finished with a 69. Ueda, who also won the Mizuno in 2007, missed a 16-foot putt on the final hole of regulation but regrouped in the playoff to win her second title on the LPGA Tour and the ninth in events sanctioned by the Japan LPGA.

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