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Mickelson hopes to defend Phoenix

PHIL MICKELSON expects to be fit for his title defence at the Waste Management Phoenix Open following his withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open because of a back injury.

Mickelson made the halfway cut at Torrey Pines, but was then forced to pull out of the event before the start of Saturday's third round.

The 43-year-old, who finished joint second in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour the previous week, then flew to Georgia for a consultation with back specialist Tom Boers.

Although not at 100 per cent, Mickelson said yesterday he expects to play. He said: "I had a good practice session, though I didn't go full speed for much of it. I feel fine. I expect to play and play well."

Mickelson, who opted out of yesterday's pre-tournament pro-am, won by four shots last year, leading from start to finish after a stunning opening round of 60 that could so easily have been a magical 59.

He said earlier: "If it was any other tournament, I'd skip it, but I'm defending, it's my second hometown and I love the event. I'll have a light practice session and if it goes well I may try to play.

"I'm itching to play, but I have to look at the big picture. I want play well this year, including the Majors, so I have to be realistic about how I feel in the short term."



F1: Jenson Button's bid to conform to Formula One's new controversial weight limit has been hampered by an infection to his knee.

One of the taller drivers, the 34-year-old has been forced to diet further because of new regulations, but has revealed he needs to lose more weight ahead of the season-opening race in Australia in mid-March due to a knee problem. "I haven't trained for three weeks because I've had an infection in my knee. And when you are sat on your backside, you want to eat, so it's not been the easiest," he said.



RUGBY: England will give debuts to outside centre Luther Burrell and wing Jack Nowell in Saturday's Six Nations opener against France.

Burrell has impressed throughout the season for Northampton, where he has been playing in the number 12 jersey, and starts ahead of Brad Barritt, who is included on the bench. Nowell, the tackle-busting Exeter wing, has benefited from injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade to seize the No 14 jersey from the axed Chris Ashton.

ENGLAND: M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell, B Twelvetrees, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler, D Hartley, D Cole, J Launchbury, C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola.

France: B Dulin; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, W Fofana, M Medard; J Plisson, JM Doussain; T Domingo, B Kayser, N Mas, A Flanquart, P Pape (capt, Y Nyanga, B Le Roux, L Picamoles.



RUGBY: Munster import CJ Stander, 23, and hooker Duncan Casey, 23, have both signed two-year contracts for Munster, writes Des Berry.

"We've had a really positive start to 2014 with players committing their future to Munster and I believe this spurs the younger lads on, knowing what is ahead of them," said coach Rob Penney.

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