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February 19 2012

6:00 PM

Good friends do battle on Sunday

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The meeting wasn't quite as simple as "Hi, I'm Phil Mickelson," but it was close.

Keegan Bradley was sitting next to the soon-to-be World Golf Hall of Famer, as well as another idol, Fred Couples, at the Shell Houston Open. It was the 10th tournament of Bradley's PGA TOUR career.

Mickelson stuck out his hand and introduced himself. Several weeks later, the two played their first of many practice rounds together a month later at TPC Sawgrass during THE PLAYERS Championship.

"That's kind of how it went, actually," Bradley said, almost sheepishly, when recounting that first meeting. "But after that we got to sit down and talk, and Bones (caddy Jim Mackay) and him have been a huge help."

Mickelson and Bradley are playing together again on Sunday at Riviera Country Club. This time, though, they are in the final group of the final round and trying to win the Northern Trust Open.

Bradley is seeking the third win of his still-young career while Mickelson is going for his 41st -- and second straight after last week's brilliant 64 on Sunday delivered Lefty's fourth AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Bradley said the practice rounds the two have played together should help when the pressure is on at Riviera.

"The thing that I do have is I have played with him a bunch, I've hung out with him, and I feel more comfortable this year than I would last year playing in the final group," Bradley said. "I've got that going for me.  I love Phil.  Everything he's done for me is great, and if I didn't win tomorrow, I would hope he would."

Bradley says Mickelson, who has also mentored Brendan Steele and Kyle Stanley --  spending about 45 minutes with Stanley at Phoenix the week after he blew a three-shot lead on the final hole at Torrey Pines, is competitive yet "very helpful at the same time. 

"I thank him for his advice and help," Bradley said. "But he's going to try to beat me (Sunday), and I'm going to have to try to do the same."

Mickelson likes what he sees in Bradley, too. So much, in fact, that the four-time major champion essentially endorsed Bradley for a Presidents Cup captain's pick last fall when the reigning PGA champ didn't make the team on points.

"I really like Keegan," Mickelson said. "He's a great guy. He's a great player, and I think a lot of him. I think he's great for the game and just represents the sport and profession well. I really like him. I think he's a tremendous talent, and I like playing with him. 

"We've had some great practice rounds, good fun. You can be very relaxed around him, and he takes things well.  You can rough him up a little bit, and he'll give it right back. We've got a good banter, and I enjoy being around him." 

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