Mickelson glad to be back in N.E.

NORTON, Mass. -- Belly putter or no belly putter, one thing is clear heading into the first round of this weekend's Deutsche Bank Championship: Phil Mickelson is ready for some New England golf. Talking to the media Thursday following an early pro-am round, the 41-year-old lefty, who has battled arthritis and bulging scorecards of late, said he is happy to be back at TPC Boston, where he won in 2007.

"This is one of my favorite courses we play all year," Mickelson said. "I think it has incredible risk reward. I think that the holes here have some really good birdie opportunities with the drivable par 4, reachable par 5. I think it makes it really exciting for birdies. But I also think the hard holes are really hard, which I love, because you'll get turnover for guys -- you'll make up ground on the tough holes with par and you'll make up ground on the easy holes with birdie. I think it's just a terrific course. And the aesthetics are spectacular. But the way it plays is wonderful. It's really one of our better courses."

Mickelson has fared well over the years in New England. Back when Connecticut's Travelers Championship was still the Canon Greater Hartford Open, Mickelson won in back-to-back years, 2001 and 2002, with four-round totals of 264 and 266, respectively. Then in 2007 at the Deutsche Bank, Mickelson outdueled Tiger Woods on Sunday to finish at 16-under-par, good for 9,000 FedEx Cup points and first place in the playoff standings.

"Boston is an awesome sporting town," Mickelson said after the 2007 win. "It was an electrifying crowd. There were so many people that came out to support this event. We as players certainly appreciate that."

He'll hope for more of the same this weekend. Mickelson comes into this year's tournament as the ninth-ranked golfer in the world, and he sits in 11th place on the FedEx Cup points list with 1,721. Last week at the weather-shortened Barclays, he tied for 43rd, and this week in Norton, he'll face a tough field that includes the current world No. 1, Luke Donald, as well as a few hotshot youngsters in PGA champion Keegan Bradley, Jason Day and the suddenly surging Dustin Johnson.

It remains to be seen which Phil Mickelson will show up Friday -- the surgical Phil who dominated at the Shell Houston Open in April, or the struggling Phil who missed the cut at July's Greenbrier Classic. In the meantime, Mickelson says he's just happy to be back in front of the New England fans.

"The people here have be great," he said. "Winning in 2007 was really fun."

Tom Lakin is covering this week's Deutsche Bank Championship for ESPNBoston.com.