SINGAPORE, Oct 30 (Reuters) When Phil Mickelson tees off in the first round of the 4 million dollar Singapore Open on Thursday, the American world number two will be fulfilling an ambition he has held since he was a boy.
The Asian Tour's flagship event has attracted a host of leading international players to the Southeast Asian nation for the opening event of a lucrative month-long swing in the region that includes next week's Champions Tournament and the World Cup.
For Mickelson, however, a rare opportunity to visit Singapore was first and foremost in his mind as he recounted a childhood memory to reporters at a news conference today.
''I have been looking forward to this trip for some time now,'' the 37-year-old three-times major winner said.
''When I was 12-years-old, my father came and played in a world airlines tournament here -- he was a pilot -- and he brought back a sweater that had 'Singapore Country Club' on it.
''I wore that vest for years and when my father told me how great it was here, I really wanted to come one day and now I am very happy I have been able to find the time.'' RICHEST EVENTS Last week's wild fires near his California home almost forced the left-hander to cancel the trip but once the flames abated, Mickelson went ahead with his plan to visit Asia and described it as a ''blessing''.
''The fires touched our lot but we were unscathed. I feel almost guilty in a way as we were fine and many of our neighbours lost everything,'' he added.
This year's inaugural FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour has shortened the season for many US-based golfers, opening the way for many of them to finish the year playing the richest events in Asia throughout November.
Joining Mickelson at the demanding Serapong Course on Sentosa Island will be twice defending champion Adam Scott, major winners Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, Vijay Singh and Michael Campbell as well as K J Choi, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.
''I hope this will be the first of many trips to the region,'' Mickelson said.
''One of the difficulties I have had in the past is that my children were so young, they have not been able to travel with me and I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could.
''Now they are getting older, I feel I owe it to them to take them around the world and show them the different cultures. It will be an educational two weeks for all of us.
''More trips like this will be good for two reasons: to help promote golf on an international basis and to help educate my children on a more global basis as well.'' REUTERS TB AS1440