Phil Mickelson is the star attraction at the Waste Management Phoenix Open this week, but the noisiest crowd in golf might well be saving its biggest cheers for the new kid on the block.
Jhonattan Vegas, the first Venezuelan to earn a PGA Tour card, has finished first and third the past two weeks and in his first-ever round with Tiger Woods outscored him by five. Coming to Phoenix, he’s atop the money list with over $1.2 million, first on the FedExCup points standings and up from 187th in the world to 69th.
2011 WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN
This year's edition of the Waste Management Phoenix Open marks the 76th anniversary of Arizona's most popular golf event.
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"It's been a dream come true,” he said. “I'm just loving it."
The 26-year-old even has his president Hugo Chavez talking excitedly about what he previously dismissed as "a bourgeois sport."
After Vegas won the Bob Hope Classic in a playoff, Chavez said: "I am happy. He beat all the gringos. He is the pride of Venezuela -- and he's black, like Obama, just a little bit plumper."
With a hole to play last Sunday at Torrey Pines, there was still a chance that the 6-foot-2 Nationwide Tour graduate would win again, but in trying for an eagle he went in the water and ran up a bogey instead.
Instead it was lefthanders Bubba Watson and Mickelson who finished first and second -- Mickelson after laying up short of the lake and then almost pitching in -- and they are paired together in the first two rounds this week. Vegas is in the group behind with fellow South Americans Camilo Villegas and Angel Cabrera.
A top-three finish on Sunday would take Mickelson ahead of Woods in the world rankings for the first time since April 1997 -- the week when Woods arrived for his first major as a professional and won the Masters by 12.
Not that it would have any great significance for Mickelson because Woods is already down to third behind Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, and both Paul Casey and Steve Stricker could also overtake him while he has a week off.
"I'm excited because I can tell that my game's coming around,” said Mickelson, who is still without a victory since Augusta last April. "I'm kind of done making changes. I'm trying to hit shots now. I'm trying to hit draws, hooks, slices, fades and see if I can get it close."
The tournament is facing the strong possibility of lengthy delays on the opening two days because of frost.