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Off to winning start, Mickelson looks forward to rest of year

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LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) _ During his five-month break from the PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson wanted to get stronger, tinker with his swing a bit, and polish up his short game.

He returned to the tour with a victory his first time out since August, winning the Bob Hope Classic on the first hole of a playoff with David Berganio on Sunday.

Taking his 20th tour title, Mickelson birdied the final three holes of regulation for an 8-under 64 and 30-under total, then birdied No. 18 again in the playoff after Berganio hit his second shot into the water in front of the green on the par 5.

Mickelson was very pleased with his game over the five days of the Hope.

``I think that this is a year that I've been very much looking forward to, that I've worked hard for. I feel like my game has slowly evolved to get where it is today,'' said Mickelson, beginning his 10th full season on the tour. ``I specifically set out to get proficient from 120, 130 yards in.

``That's why I'm so excited to have won the tournament, because what I specifically set out to work on paid off this week.''

Mickelson's short game paid off big late in the tournament. He made a spectacular flop shot from a bad lie on the fringe to set up his birdie on the final hole of regulation, then hit a wedge from 80 yards to within inches of the pin on his third shot of the playoff.

Berganio had dropped and hit his fourth shot within 8 feet of the cup, leaving him a chance for par, but Mickelson had to only tap-in for his birdie and the $720,000 winner's check.

``You can't count Phil out because of his short game, and he knew exactly what he was doing and he did it. He's a great player, obviously, and he showed it right there,'' Berganio said.

Berganio, who shot a closing 66 to force the playoff, got $432,000 for his highest finish ever.

Talking about his costly second shot, a 4-iron, on the playoff hole, Berganio said, ``I was trying to hit a hard cut on the right portion of the green and I just chunked it.''

Mickelson, who took time off to be with his wife for the birth of their second child in October then also skipped the first two tournaments this year, wasn't surprised he was able to win his first time back.

``It's only been five months. It's not that long. I've played golf for 29, 30 years, so it's not like I'm going to forget how,'' he said.

Mickelson won twice last year, was second behind Tiger Woods on the money list, and finished in the top 10 in his final three events of the season before taking his break.

He was gratified to win his 20th title, a milestone reached by just 33 others.

``To have won 20 times, and to play golf, which is what most people do on vacation, as my job is great,'' he said.

Briny Baird and Cameron Beckman tied for third at 28 under. Jerry Kelly, who won a week earlier in Hawaii, was fifth at 27 under. Jay Haas, the 1988 Hope champion who had been in or near the lead much of this week, had a 74 to finish six strokes back at 336.

Mickelson took the Hope lead for first time when he rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to go to 7 under for the day, and 29 under for the tournament.

Berganio's round included an eagle at No. 11 that started him on his way to a 31 on the last nine holes of regulation.

While the second-place finish was the best of his career, Berganio tied for third last year in the Greater Hartford Open _ two strokes behind the winning Mickelson.
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