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Mickelson goes for 3, delays dollars

He could be earning thousands of dollars playing golf professionally. He could be making even more from endorsements. He could be living his dreams. Instead, Phil Mickelson is a college student. When he's not playing tournaments on the PGA Tour, he is attending classes and trying to help his college team win another NCAA golf title.

Oh, yeah, and the reason he has put a life of prosperity on hold? He wants to add to his numerous amateur achievements.

The junior left-hander at Arizona State begins defense of his title today in the first round of the NCAA Division I men's championship, at Poppy Hills Golf Club, in Pebble Beach, Calif. The 72-hole tournament is scheduled to conclude Saturday.

His team, the Sun Devils, also is the defending champion and should be challenged by Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Nevada-Las Vegas, Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech. Thirty teams qualified for the tournament, including Florida and Central Florida.

But in the individual competition, all eyes will be on Mickelson, who is attempting to become only the second player in college history to win three consecutive NCAA titles.

Ben Crenshaw won three in a row from 1971 to 1973, but he shared the 1972 title with Texas teammate Tom Kite.

Mickelson won his first NCAA title in 1989 at Oak Tree Country Club, in Edmond, Okla., with a 1-over-par score of 281. He finished four shots better than Arizona's Robert Gamez, the PGA Tour's rookie of the year in 1990.

Last year, Mickelson fired a final-round 66 at Tarpon Springs' Innisbrook Resort Island Course to win by four shots.

He went on to win the U.S. Amateur and became only the second player to win that tournament and the NCAA in the same year. Jack Nicklaus was the first.

But Mickelson's greatest achievement so far came this year at the PGA Tour's Tucson Open, where he birdied the final hole for a one-shot victory. He also played in the Phoenix Open, the San Diego Open (in his hometown), the Doral Open, the Masters (where he was low amateur), and the Memorial. He made the cut in everything but the Doral and would have nearly $250,000 in prize money if he were not an amateur.

So it would seem there is little incentive for Mickelson, 20, in college tournaments.

"Sure, there is," he said. "Sometimes it's difficult to get fired up, but to me that's the challenge. I challenge myself to be motivated every time I play golf. And I definitely don't think I'll have too difficult a time getting motivated and ready to play in the NCAA. If I do, I think I've got problems."

Mickelson is by no means a lock to win. He won three college tournaments this spring but finished fourth in his most recent two: the Pac-10 championship and the West Regional.

At the Ping/Golfweek Preview last fall on the same Poppy Hills course, Mickelson tied for second with a 3-under-par 213.

Among his chief challengers will be Arizona's Manny Zerman, whom Mickelson beat in the U.S. Amateur final last year; Oklahoma State's Kevin Wentworth, another lefty; Ohio State's Gary Nicklaus, Jack's son; and Georgia Tech's David Duval of Ponte Vedra.

Yet despite the excellent competition, Mickelson also is a good bet to pull off his NCAA triple.

"I've seen him hit shots most people won't try," said Steve Loy, Mickelson's coach at Arizona State. "He has the poise of a 30-year-old going on 20. I'm really proud of him. I don't think Phil's ever afraid on the golf course. I think if anything he's too aggressive. That's the beauty of it. If he ever has any fear on the golf course, it comes from aggression. That's something you can't teach. Most people become passive when they're afraid."

NCAA championships

Where: Poppy Hills Golf Club, Pebble Beach, Calif.

West Regional: Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford, Nevada-Las Vegas, Texas-El Paso, New Mexico, Brigham Young, Southern California.

Individual qualifiers: Mike Swingle, Washington; Troy Tamiya, Oregon.

Central Regional: Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, Ohio State, Texas Christian, Miami (Ohio), Southern Methodist, Oklahoma, Rice, Northwestern.

Individual qualifiers: Ron Wuensche, Wisconsin; Shaun Micheel, Indiana.

East Regional: Georgia Tech, Georgia, Central Florida, Louisiana State, Clemson, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina.

Individual qualifiers: Bo Fennell, Georgia Southern; Jon Hurst, Old Dominion.

Note: Individual qualifiers are the top two players from each regional who are not on a qualifying team. The NCAA tournament is stroke play for 72 holes. The top four scores on each five-man team count toward the team total each day.

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