Golf

Phil Mickelson heads field in Charlotte

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Phil Mickelson will tee it up this week at the Wells Fargo Championship of Quail Hollow as the only player inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings - but he's excited as he begins preparations for next month's US Open at Pinehurst. 

Rory McIlroy will also return to the scene of his first victory on the American circuit, but the Northern Irishman - winless on the PGA since the back end of 2012 - has slipped to world number 11 after a barren 2013. 

The North Carolina golf course has undergone changes to its famous 'Green Mile' stretch - its final three holes - after it was announced it would host the 2017 US PGA championship. 

And Mickelson said: "I loved it. The greens are more subtle, not so much in-your-face. I've always thought it was one of the best tee-to-green courses I've seen.

"You have a variety of shots to get close to the pin without having mounds to repel the ball away."

Mickelson himself has struggled for form since he won his first Open championship last July. His tied-12th finish at the Houston Open earlier in the year remains his best finish so far this season after he missed his first cut at the Masters since 1997 last month. 

After his victory at Muirfield last summer, the 43-year-old American just needs to turn his multiple second-place finishes at the US Open into a victory to complete the career Grand Slam, a feat only achieved by five other players in history. 

At Quail Hollow, Mickelson will start as favourite alongside McIlroy in the absence of the more celebrated golfers of the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods remains sidelined by a sore back after he had corrective surgery on a pinched nerve the week before Augusta, while Jason Day continues to battle a left-thumb injury. 

Justin Rose, 2013 US Open champion, was in attendance at both the RBC Heritage and last week's Zurich Classic so will not be in Thursday's field. 

It's a far cry from the days where this tournament attracted 27 of the world's top 30, and symbolises the change in attitude amongst the world's elite who are now intent on managing their schedule to ensure they peak at the majors. 

Mickelson added: "I think some players probably wanted to wait a year and maybe play someplace they haven't played.

"But I was so excited to come and see it, because I just knew that they were going to get it right, and they sure did. It's really fun to play."

The three-time Masters winner came close to winning in Charlotte last year but a sloppy finish saw him bogey two of his final three holes and meant he slipped out of contention. He had to watch on as Derek Ernst and David Lynn went head-to-head in a sudden-death playoff. 

The course was in poor condition 12 months ago, especially the greens, which were displaying large areas of grass-less patches, and could have potentially acted as a deterrent to players this time around. 

But with the 2017 PGA set to be contested at the Hollow Club, it probably won't be long before it becomes an attractive proposition on the PGA Tour calendar once more. 

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Topics:
Phil Mickleson
PGA Tour
Golf
Rory McIlroy

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