INVERNESS, Scotland (AP) – Phil Mickelson broke out of his slump with an 8-under 64 at the Scottish Open on Friday, leaving him five shots off the second-round lead shared by Alexander Noren and Francesco Molinari.
Noren used another round of 66 to move to 12 under alongside Molinari, who couldn't match his blistering 62 on Thursday but managed a 70.
Mickelson charged up the leaderboard in an overcast but largely wind-free round at the Castle Stuart links. The three-time Masters champion broke par for the first time since May, with an eagle and six birdies putting him in a strong position for the weekend and improving his confidence before the British Open.
“We've had perfect weather and the golf course was there for the taking,'' said Mickelson, who shot a 73 Thursday after cutting short his family holiday in Italy to play in the tournament. “It's very helpful to see my game progress so quickly.
“I think the more I play, the better it gets. It's not to the level that I would like, yet, but I get closer each day.''
His 64 matched the lowest round of the day – along with Ricardo Gonzalez and Matteo Manassero, who finished at 11 under. S.S.P. Chowrasia of India was another shot back, while top-ranked Luke Donald shot 68.
“It was very stress-free,'' said defending champion Donald, who birdied the last two holes. “It was a nice finish and I'm only three back. You've got to stay patient and you've got to know that this course does offer some opportunities, especially in reasonably benign conditions.''
The cut was 4 under, leaving Colin Montgomerie, Gregory Havret, Rich Beem and American John Rollins heading home early.
Mickelson chipped in for eagle with his lob wedge from 60 yards at his first hole. Driving long and straight and making 16 greens in regulation, he gave himself plenty of birdie chances.
It marked a massive improvement for Mickelson, who missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic last week, tied for 65th at the U.S. Open and withdrew after a first-round 79 at the Memorial Tournament in his last three events.
“To have a good, consistent 18 holes of golf was a nice breakthrough and it gives me a chance on the weekend to try to do the same,'' he said.
The 89th-ranked Noren carried his 30th birthday celebrations over from Thursday by making six birdies and an eagle.
Molinari had an average round after his tournament record-equaling 62 on Thursday.
“I knew it was going to be hard following up yesterday,'' the Italian said. “I knew it wasn't going to last forever.''
Oddly enough in the Scottish Highlands, a tee shot from Gonzalez rolled into an open packet of salt and vinegar chips on the par-4 seventh hole. After taking a drop, he made his first birdie and added six more.
Peter Whiteford made the second hole in one of the tournament after acing the 11th but missed out on the prize of 168 bottles of champagne – for each yard of the hole – because Andrew Johnston of England achieved the feat on Thursday.