AUGUSTA, Ga. -- At 12:15 Friday afternoon, the idea of Phil Mickelson ending his round with a sun-splashed fist pump and a 68 on his scorecard would have seemed ridiculous.
The chilly north wind and cloudy skies made for a gloomy scene. Mickelson birdied the third and fourth holes but lost his momentum with a three-putt bogey on the fifth hole.
The sun started to poke through the clouds as Mickelson made the turn, but things weren’t much brighter for Mickelson after another bogey on the 11th hole, which dropped his score back to two over par for the tournament. Mickelson was halfway through his round and right back where he'd started the day.
But four birdies over the final seven holes moved Mickelson up the leaderboard and put a big smile on his face. He had re-established himself as a contender to win the green jacket.
"To be only three back with 36 to go, there's a lot of time left, and there's a lot of birdies out there, and I get to slide off before the leaders [on Saturday]," he said after signing his scorecard. "If I make a move, they get to see those numbers being posted ahead of them, and that's not always easy."
Mickelson's run began with a great tee shot on the 155-yard par-3 12th hole, which he dropped 12 feet from the hole. After making the birdie putt, he wrapped his tee shot around the corner on the 13th and found the fairway. After a mid-iron came to rest in the front of the green, he two-putted from about 40 feet away for another birdie.
A par at the 14th was followed by another birdie at the par-5 15th. Mickelson missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 16th but converted a birdie putt on the 18th for the second day in a row.
"The biggest thing for me was, strategically, I didn't miss the ball in the wrong spot," he said afterward. "If I got into some trouble or hit some poor shots, they were on the proper side where I could still get up and down and let my short game salvage strokes, which I did fairly well today."
The greens at Augusta National are still soft from rain that fell on Wednesday and Thursday. Mickelson is happy to be only three shots behind the leaders, but he knows his experience hasn't given him the edge he'd hoped for.
"It's letting guys get away with not having to have the right angles," he said. "You don't have to strategically be on the right side of he fairways or have the right angles in to the pins because balls are not releasing on the greens. They're just sticking."
But what Mickelson's experience does provides is perspective, and a clear understanding of what he wants to do next.
"I feel like Saturday is the day you can really make a move," he said. "Sunday you kind of cherish the back nine and it's exciting, but I feel like Saturday is the day you have got to play well to get yourself in position. It will be a critical day to get myself in a spot where I don't have to make up too much ground on the leaders."