AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Retief Goosen has been playing well. He just hasn’t been winning.
Two more days like the first two at the Bridgestone Invitational and that may no longer be a problem.
Goosen shot a 4-under 66 in Friday’s second round to take a one-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard midway through the rich, no-cut World Golf Championship event at Firestone Country Club.
“I’ve been playing quite consistent this year, which is quite nice,” said the South African, winner of the U.S. Open in 2001 and again in 2004. “I’ve just not been winning. Obviously, you want to win. I’ve had a lot of top 10s this year but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s that No. 1 that counts.”
Goosen, who stands at 7-under 133, was talking about being No. 1 in a tournament. Mickelson can be No. 1 in the world – and end Tiger Woods’ reign after more than five years – with a strong showing.
Mickelson has been chasing Woods all year but can overtake him if he finishes in the top four and Woods continues his woeful play. Woods followed a 74 – his worst score at Firestone or in the tournament – with a 72 in the second round and now finds himself 13 shots behind Goosen but only eight shots out of last place in the field.
Lefty would love to be No. 1.
“Obviously, it would be cool,” he said after completing an adventurous 68. “I’m not going to say it wouldn’t. It would be something I would love to do. And I know I’ve got a great opportunity this week. I know that I’m playing well and this is my best opportunity. But I’m trying not to think about it.”
Goosen, playing in the morning wave, birdied the par-5 second after reaching the green in two, then chipped in from 75 feet for another at the fourth. A 330-yard drive for the deceptively long Goosen set the stage for another birdie at the eighth.
He added three more birdies, along with one bogey, before faltering at the 18th. He missed the green with an 8-iron second shot, chipped from deep rough to 10 feet and missed the putt.
Goosen and Matt Kuchar share the PGA Tour lead with seven top-10s so far, but Goosen hasn’t grabbed any headlines because his best finish is a fourth at the Sony Open. He believes if he can play well at long and winding Firestone, it’ll help him next week at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
“You need to drive it well around any major championship,” he said. “So this is a good course to prepare for next week.”
Mickelson was in the thick of things all day but survived a wild finish. He double-bogeyed the 14th after pushing his drive into the 13th fairway. He followed that with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th, then dropped a 90-yard wedge to 12 feet for another birdie at “The Monster,” Firestone’s famed 652-yard 16th.
He pulled a drive on the next hole that hit a spectator in the shoulder. After giving the man a golf glove as consolation, Mickelson salvaged par with a high shot over the trees and a punch shot to 5 feet. At the closing hole, he hit his second into the front bunker but then hit a spectacular sand shot to 2 feet.
“It was a little bit more interesting, the last five holes, than the stretch of pars there in the middle of the round,” he cracked. “I think that gentleman (at 17) learned the hazards of following me and walking down the landing area. I think that he might want to stay more by the tee next time.”
Leonard, whose 66 was built around five birdies and a bogey, hasn’t finished better than 14th in 18 starts this year on tour, but said he felt as if his swing has been coming around recently.
“I’m very pleased but not overly surprised,” he said. “I’ve felt like the last couple months I put in a lot of work, and the last couple of weeks it started to pay off.”
Peter Hanson (66), Bo Van Pelt (68) and first-round leader Bubba Watson (71) were at 135, with Adam Scott (70), Nick Watney (68), Lucas Glover (66), Miguel Angel Jimenez (67), Paul Casey (68) and Kuchar (67) another shot back.
Woods was nowhere near the leaders.
He struggled mightily with his accuracy off the tee, hitting just three of 14 fairways. Playing partner Lee Westwood, battling a calf injury, shot a 76 before withdrawing from both the Bridgestone and the PGA.
Before he left, he was asked about playing with Woods.
“Neither of us played very well, did we?” Westwood said. “We’re all human. We all have bad days.”