Elkington fires 8-under to lead BellSouth event

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2002

DULUTH, Ga. -- Looking ahead to the Masters, Phil Mickelson sneaked off to a college course to work on his short game.

Those lessons paid off in the first round of the BellSouth Classic.

Mickelson opened with a 7-under-par 65 Thursday, putting him just one stroke behind leader Steve Elkington on the hilly, sprawling TPC at Sugarloaf course.

Next week, Mickelson will try to overcome the burden of being the Best Player Never To Win A Major.

''When I am playing, I really haven't been looking ahead too much,'' he said. ''I look at this as a tournament where if I can play well, work hard on my game and get it ready, that's my best way to prepare for next week.''

After Wednesday's pro-am, Mickelson drove to the University of Georgia, where the chipping and putting greens mirror Augusta's lightning-quick conditions.

''I spent a little time there,'' he said, ''just to get my short game sharp.''

It was on Thursday. Mickelson birdied all four of the par 5s, largely because of impeccable irons.

Starting on the back nine, he knocked a sand wedge within a few inches at No. 10, then repeated the feat with a chip from the side of the green at No. 6.

''Ball striking can come and go, but the short game is all touch and feel,'' said Mickelson, who won the BellSouth two years ago.

He's already given plenty of thought to his chances of finally breaking through in a major. Mickelson expects to benefit from changes that lengthened Augusta National by some 300 yards.

''I am much more confident heading into Augusta than any year because I feel there are a handful of players that have a distinct advantage,'' he said, counting himself in that group.

Portuguese Open

FARO, Portugal -- Sweden's Carl Petterson shot a 6-under 66 to take a four-stroke lead during the rain-delayed first round of the Portuguese Open.

David Gilford, Gary Evans, Bradley Dredge and Mikko Ilonen opened with 70s.

Rain halted play for more than two hours, allowing only 66 players in the 156-man field to complete the round.



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