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Mickelson off to masterful start

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his bid for a third BellSouth Classic title -- and made it clear that he's in top form for the Masters.

Mickelson tied the tournament's course record yesterday in Duluth, Ga., shooting a 9-under-par 63 to take a one-shot lead over Gavin Coles in the first round of the final tuneup for Augusta.

Mickelson birdied six of the first seven holes.

''It was a fun day, a fun start," Mickelson said. ''I birdied the first couple of holes and was off and running. I looked up and I was 6 under through seven. That was a good feeling."

Mickelson has a one-stroke lead over Gavin Coles, whose career-best 64 set the morning pace. Charles Warren is third at 7-under 65, followed by Joe Durant, Ian Poulter, and Scott Parel at 66.

Mickelson, the defending champion, missed a six-foot birdie putt on the 18th green that would have set a new tournament record at the TPC at Sugarloaf in this Atlanta suburb. There have been three other 63s since the tournament moved to Sugarloaf in 1997: Tiger Woods, 1998; Duffy Waldorf, 1999; and Ben Crane, 2003. In 1979, when the tournament was held at the Atlanta Country Club, Andy Bean shot a record 61.

Coles, 37, is trying to save his PGA Tour card. He finished out of the top 125 in winnings last season and would have lost his Tour card, but he received a five-event medical exemption after missing about two months with a broken rib.

With the exemption, Coles has five 2006 events to earn the $267,213 needed to lift his 2005 earnings to the top 125. Through his first two events, Coles earned only $7,680. A strong BellSouth Classic finish could mean Coles can remain on Tour the rest of the year.

European -- Defending champion Paul Broadhurst equaled the course record with an 8-under 64, taking a one-shot lead over Swede Christian Nelson in the first round of the Algarve Open in Portimao, Portugal.

Tickets for the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC of Boston in Norton go on sale Monday, April 10.

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