Nick Watney made four birdies and two eagles on Friday.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — With a one-stroke lead and a steady putter, Nick Watney liked his chances going into the weekend at the FBR Open.

"I feel like I'm playing well and definitely very excited," Watney said after shooting an 8-under 63 in the second round at TPC Scottsdale on Friday. "I'm in good shape right now, so I'm going to give it my best shot."

Watney grabbed the spotlight on a day that local favorite Phil Mickelson missed the projected cut by seven strokes and finished tied for 121st. Play was called due to darkness with three players, all above the cut line, still on the course.

At 9 under through two rounds, Watney had a one-stroke lead over Charley Hoffman, Matt Kuchar and first-round co-leader James Nitties. Kenny Perry and Cameron Beckman were two shots back.

Watney matched his career-low round, a first-round 63 in the 2008 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He tied for 36th that week.

Watney entered Friday five strokes off the lead but roared into contention with two eagles in a three-hole stretch. The first came on the par-5, 595-yard 13th hole and the second on the par-5, 552-yard 15th.

Watney also had four birdies, including three in a row on the front nine.

"I was hitting the ball close, and I kept telling my caddie just to get me on the green any way and I felt like I could hole it," Watney said.

He attributed his improved putting to work he did in the offseason, when he tried to simplify his approach and "putt like you did when you were a kid."

"You tell a kid to hit it at that spike mark and he'll do it, so that's what I've been trying to do," Watney said.

Mickelson usually fares well in this event, although he has missed the cut here twice in the last three years.

Mickelson never recovered from a disastrous 5-over 76 in the first round. He had five bogeys and three pars in his morning round on Friday.

This is the first time Mickelson has missed the cut in his season debut in a pro career that began in 1992.

If recent history is any indication, Mickelson may be right where he needs to be.

Two years ago, he missed the cut here and bounced back to win at Pebble Beach one week later. Last year, he missed the cut at Pebble Beach and won the Northern Trust Open the next week.

The tour's next stop is the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, near Mickelson's home.

"This will give me a few more days to get my game sharp," Mickelson said. "Again, it didn't feel as far off as the score indicated, obviously. But I'll get some good work done this weekend and hopefully come out sharp and ready to play next Thursday in San Diego."

It's hard to tell whether Mickelson's absence will hurt the FBR Open at the gate, where crowds are down. When he missed the cut two years ago, the event drew 93,475 for the final round, a Super Bowl Sunday record.

The FBR Open is the PGA Tour's most heavily attended event. But attendance has dipped each day compared with last year, when the tournament drew a record 538,356 with the Super Bowl in town.

On Friday, 111,013 attended, down about 9,000 from a year ago.

Mickelson wasn't the only big name to make an early exit. Anthony Kim, the world's No. 9 player, finished at 4 over and 10th-ranked Camilo Villegas was 1 over.

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