SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- With Tiger Woods continuing to nurse a knee injury and Ernie Els opting to compete in Singapore, Chris DiMarco has a chance to do something that no golfer has done in nearly 30 years -- repeat at the Phoenix Open.
The $4 million event, which gets under way Thursday and attracts one of the most raucous crowds on tour, has not been kind on defending champions.
The 7,059-yard, par-71 TPC-Scottsdale layout lends itself to low scores but no champion has been able to take advantage since Johnny Miller accomplished the feat in 1974-75.
"Obviously, it's pretty special walking around this place," DiMarco said. "And you see your picture everywhere. It's pretty cool."
DiMarco could break through this week. His one-stroke victory here last year sparked him to an 11th-place finish on the money list. He has a win in each of the last three years and is coming off a third-place showing at last week's Sony Open.
"Any time you defend, obviously you come back to a place that's got good memories," DiMarco said. "I'm coming off a good finish last week and I'm looking forward to this week."
And while Woods recuperates and Els tees off on the other side of the planet, the tour does get a shot in the arm with the return of world No. 3 Phil Mickelson. The 21-time champion fell a spot in the rankings after Els opened the year with back-to-back wins.
Mickelson, a former Scottsdale resident, won here in a playoff in 1996 and has four top-10 finishes in 13 Phoenix Opens. He is no stranger to winning early, having captured his debut event in 2002 -- the Bob Hope Classic.
Others to watch include Rocco Mediate, who has played extremely well here over the last four years while winning once, finishing second twice and placing 15th. He is coming off a second-place finish at the Mercedes Championships two weeks ago, an event in which he carded a final-round 63.
"It sets up for me, every hole," Mediate said of the TPC course. "I mean, every hole pleases my eye, I guess you could say. I just love the atmosphere, the noise, the insanity and the fun."
Aaron Baddeley, the 21-year-old Australian who lost in a playoff at the Sony Open, has a house in Scottsdale. But only one of the previous 12 Phoenix Open champions claimed this tournament as their initial victory on tour.
"Obviously, he's ready to make a mark after what he did last week," DiMarco said. "He's a great player."
Also entered this week is 2001 PGA champion David Toms, who has improved his finish here each of the last five years, including a ninth-place effort in 2002.