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New star Vegas living the dream ahead of Phoenix tilt

Phil Mickelson is the star attraction in Phoenix this week, but the noisiest crowd in golf might well be saving its biggest cheers for the new kid on the block.

Jhonattan Vegas, the first Venezuelan to earn a PGA Tour card, has finished first and third the past two weeks and, in his first round with Tiger Woods, out-scored him by five. Top of the money list with £1.2m, first on the FedEx Cup points standings and up from 187th in the world to 69th.

As he says himself: "It's been a dream come true -- I'm just loving it."

The 26-year-old even has his president Hugo Chavez talking excitedly about what he previously dismissed as "a bourgeois sport."

After Vegas won the Bob Hope Classic, Chavez said: "I am happy. He beat all the gringos. He is the pride of Venezuela -- and he's black, like Obama, just a little bit plumper."

With a hole to play on Sunday there was still a chance that the 6ft 2in, 16-stone Nationwide Tour graduate would win again, but in trying for an eagle he went in the water and ran up a bogey instead.


Instead, Bubba Watson and Mickelson finished first and second and they are partners in the first two rounds here in the Waste Management Open.

Vegas is in the group behind with Camilo Villegas and Angel Cabrera.

A top-three finish on Sunday would take Mickelson ahead of Woods on the world rankings for the first time since April 1997 -- the week when Woods arrived for his first Major as a professional and won the Masters by 12 shots.

Not that it would have any great significance for Mickelson as Woods is already down to third behind Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, and both Paul Casey and Steve Stricker could also overtake him while he has a week off.

Mickelson is still without a victory since Augusta last April, but he said: "I'm excited because I can tell that my game's coming around.

"I'm kind of done making changes. I'm trying to hit draws, hooks, slices, fades and see if I can get it close."

Phoenix Open, Day 1,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 9.0

Irish Independent