Sports

FEELING FINE

Phil Mickelson returns to one of his favourites venues for this week's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, bidding for a record-equalling fifth victory before taking a short break from the US PGA Tour for family time.

The American world No. 4 claimed the most recent of his four titles in the picturesque surrounds of Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2012, and has been largely encouraged by his form this year.

He tied for second at the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship in his first start of the year and, though he withdrew after the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open the next week due to back pain, believes he is close to his best.

"My game is not far off, even though the score says that it is," Mickelson (left) told reporters, referring to his closing level-par 71 at last week's Phoenix Open where he tied for 42nd.

"It was just a fraction off.

"My irons were what I struggled with but I drove the ball well, short game wasn't bad, putting wasn't bad.

"I have to go back to work on my iron play.

"The back feels great and I'm looking forward to Monterey (this week)."

Two years ago, Mickelson charged to victory by two shots at Pebble Beach after firing a flawless 64 in the final round and he has long relished competing in the pro-am celebrity event staged on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula.

"It's one of my favourite places to play golf," said the five-time Major champion.

"It's just a special week. We play three of the most amazing golf courses on Tour and all combined in one week."

The US$6.6 million ($8.34m) event will be played on three courses: the hosting Pebble Beach Golf Links and its sister venues Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Shore.

Should Mickelson triumph on Sunday, he would emulate the achievement of fellow American Mark O'Meara who won the tournament five times between 1985 and 1997 to earn the nickname King of Pebble Beach.

STRONG FIELD

However, he faces a strong field this week. They include defending champion Brandt Snedeker, 2009 and 2010 winner Dustin Johnson, Australian world No. 10 Jason Day and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.

McDowell won his only Major title at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach and, like Mickelson, has long cherished competing on the par-72 coastal layout.

"Pebble Beach, it's such a special venue," said McDowell. "This is one of the most special golf courses in the planet... It just is a beautiful place to play golf."

- Reuters.

GOLF