- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

From combined dispatches

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. | In his PGA Tour bio, James Nitties lists his special interests as “clubbing, girls, movies.”

He came to the right place.

Nitties shot a 6-under 65 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead with Lucas Glover in the FBR Open at TPC Scottsdale, renowned as the most partying stop on the PGA Tour.

The opening round was no party for local favorite Phil Mickelson, tied for 121st after shooting a 5-over 76 in his first round of the year. Play was called by darkness with nine players still on the course.

While Mickelson searched for answers, Nitties was reveling in the FBR Open’s anything-goes atmosphere.

“This is one of the events I was looking forward to the most,” said Nitties, a 26-year-old Australian. “If you knew me, it’s tough for me to concentrate out here. But on the flip side, I’m on the PGA Tour, and I’m not going to take it for granted, so I know when to put my partying on hold, and I know when to put in hard work. Yeah, there’s some good sights out there.”

On Thursday, there were also some bad sights - such as Mickelson digging his drives out of cacti on the 11th and 13th holes. Mickelson finished with as many double bogeys (two) as birdies, and he also had three bogeys. Only six players posted higher scores on a breezy, sunny day.

Mickelson usually fares well at TPC Scottsdale, winning in 1996 and 2005 and losing in a playoff last year. This was his season debut, but the former Arizona State star said he wasn’t rusty and thought his swing was in good shape.

“It doesn’t feel as far off as the score indicates,” he said. “I know the score is ridiculous, but it doesn’t feel bad.”

The highlight of Mickelson’s day may have been a brief meeting with former President George H.W. Bush as Mickelson’s group approached the 15th green. Bush also shook hands with Mickelson’s partners, Justin Leonard and Zach Johnson.

Bush was part of a crowd of 71,907, which fell more than 11,000 short of last year’s opening-round record. The FBR Open is the tour’s most heavily attended event, but attendance has been down each of the first four days in what might be a sign of the weakening economy.

David Berganio Jr. and Charley Hoffman were tied for third, one stroke off the lead, with Briny Baird, Kevin Na and Matt Kuchar two strokes off the pace.

TPC Scottsdale has a long history of low scores; two years ago, John Rollins shot 20 under and lost by a stroke to Aaron Baddeley.

But players had heard the course would be tougher this year, and the opening round bore that out.

Asked about a rumor that the fairways had tightened, Baird replied, “I don’t think that’s a rumor. That’s a fact. They’ve pinched the fairways in.”

McIlroy sets pace

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy shot an 8-under 64 to take the lead in the suspended first round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

The 19-year-old had nine birdies and a bogey. Sweden’s Robert Karlsson shot a 65, and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano had a 66.

Sixty players were unable to finish after fog delayed the start for almost three hours.

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