Ron Agostini

'Lefty' returns home to AT&T

When Phil Mickelson defends his title at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he's the closest thing to a home team.

Mickelson, with all due apologies to five-time winner Mark O'Meara, owns that exclusive sliver of property along 17-Mile Drive.

The San Diego native has won the event three times -- 1998, '04 and '07. His $990,000 first prize last year made him the AT&T's leading career money winner with more than $3 million. His 2007 winning score of 268 was the lowest for 72 holes in tournament history. Only Nicklaus (three wins) and O'Meara have enjoyed equal or more success.

More connections: Mickelson's grandfather caddied at Pebble Beach, sometimes for 25 cents per round. His family also was connected to the Monterey fishing industry. He chose Pebble Beach and the 1992 U.S. Open as his venue for his pro debut.

All of which makes Mickelson anxious to begin his season, which he'll kick off next week at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines.

"The biggest reason is I'm so excited to play golf after I've had a break," Mickelson said during a conference call Monday. "I'm practicing harder and working harder. I don't feel tired, as often happens as the year goes on. I also have a special place in my heart for the courses."

The AT&T, to be held Feb. 7-10, has become the anchor of Mickelson's career-long dominance on the West Coast. Fifteen of his 32 wins have happened either in California or Arizona.

Mickelson, a distant No. 2 behind Tiger Woods in the world rankings, also knows the U.S. Open will be staged at Torrey Pines, the site for many of his high school matches. He also understands, however, that Torrey Pines also is home turf for Woods.

"If conditions are the same as at any other course, I believe Torrey Pines is the most difficult course in the country," Mickelson said. "It's 7,600 yards, there are no bail-out areas. If the USGA does what it normally does, we could see some ridiculous scores."THE SHAG BAG -- Actor Chris O'Donnell on playing in the AT&T: "This is like the Super Bowl for me. It's like being a member of the greatest club in the world. There is so much history and tradition. The best perk I get (for being a celebrity) is playing in the AT&T. My buddies fight all year to see who gets to caddie for me."... Bill Murray probably won't appear at Pebble -- film commitments. ...

Sue Fiscoe, director of golf for the City of Modesto, will be honored at the 49th California Golf Writers Association Dinner for being named the NCPGA Professional of the Year. The awards banquet will be held Tuesday night, Feb. 5, at The Inn At Spanish Bay, and tickets cost $160 apiece. Call 831-375-1747. ... Saddle Creek in Copperopolis was ranked 16th among the top 36 resort courses in the western portion of the U.S. and Canada by Fairways and Greens magazine. ...

McHenry Golf Center will offer a special package next month for teenaged boys hoping to fine-tune their game for the upcoming high school season. Each Saturday from 1 to 2 p.m., free golf balls and instruction from the McHenry staff will be available. The same program was held for high school girls last September. ... Signups will be accepted next week for McHenry's new "Bucket A Day" promotion next summer. The price can't be better: Register at no charge for the membership card, which grants a bucket of practice balls each day -- no charge -- from June 1 to Sept. 1. Call the golf center, 523-5151. ...

The third annual Jerry North Classic, a fund-raiser for Modesto Junior College and Davis High golf, is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 26, at Diablo Grande's Legends course. The fee is $85 per player. Call Will Bossard, 526-4944 or 531-5678, or email bossards@msn.com.

HOLES-IN-ONE -- Bob Boone, Modesto, 165-yard 14th at Manteca Park, 9-wood. ... Lu Vinh, Hughson, 138-yard fourth at Stevinson Ranch, 8-iron. ... Jerry Bayley, Modesto, 92-yard sixth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 9-iron. ... Chris Opoien, Sonora, 168-yard fifth at Mountain Springs, Sonora, 6-iron. ... Frank Reynolds, Twain Harte, 135-yard 12th at Mountain Springs, 7-woood. ... Dale Warn (82), Turlock, 133-yard sixth at River Oaks, Ceres, 5-wood. ... Bill Rich, Waterford, 86-yard 16th at River Oaks, 5-wood. ... Jack Olson, Oakdale, 100-yard sixth at Oakdale CC, pitching wedge.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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