DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Phil Mickelson is driving the ball long and straight, chipping it perhaps better than ever, and leads the CA Championship field in putting by a wide margin.
Through two rounds, he leads by two shots.
And – get this! – Lefty sounds disappointed.
Mickelson shot a 6-under 66 on Friday at Doral, getting to 11 under and taking a two-shot lead over Nick Watney (67). Kenny Perry (64) and Rory McIlroy (66) are tied for third, three shots back.
Nowhere in sight, though, is one Tiger Woods, who struggled with his putter again and shot 70, falling 10 shots behind Mickelson.
Not surprisingly, Woods isn’t happy about that.
Oddly, neither is Mickelson, who almost sounds like he’s rooting for his longtime rival.
“It kind of (stinks),” Mickelson said. “I hope he comes out (Saturday) and plays a great round and makes a move.”
It would have to be some kind of move from the world No. 1 if he’s going to give Mickelson some competition this weekend.
Mickelson made six birdies and no bogeys on his final 14 holes on Friday. The three players he began the day tied with – Prayad Marksaeng (70), Jeev Milkha Singh (71) and Retief Goosen (76) – all headed in the other direction, while Mickelson kept chipping it close and generally avoiding trouble.
Through two rounds, Mickelson has needed 42 putts. Padraig Harrington is next on that list, needing 47.
“I knew heading into this week I was playing well, and I’m excited for this weekend,” Mickelson said. “But more than that, I can feel my game really coming around for the Masters.”
Woods can’t say the same. Not yet, anyway.
Now through two rounds of his first stroke-play event since winning the U.S. Open last summer, Woods is a mere 2-for-20 on putts of longer than 10 feet this week. He even had two putts lip out on his way to bogey at the 10th, his first time dropping a shot on a Doral par-5 in 63 attempts, a stretch that began in the second round of the 2005 Ford Championship.
That tournament is best remembered for the epic mano-a-mano duel between Woods and Mickelson in the final round, where Woods erased a two-shot deficit entering the day to win by one.
“What am I? Ten back? That’s not a very good spot to be in,” Woods said. “Hopefully, tomorrow I can shoot a good round and at least give myself somewhat of a chance going into Sunday.”
Woods returned from knee surgery two weeks ago in match play, but this is his first stroke-play event since he won the U.S. Open last June, and it showed. It was the first time in his 19 starts at a WGC event that he has failed to break 70 the first two rounds.
And he has never been this low on the leaderboard at any time, let alone the weekend.
“I need to play well and I need to have help, and that’s the problem when you’re so far back,” Woods said. “You’re not really in control of your destiny being that far back.”
Mickelson also made bogey on a par 5 at No. 12 when he hooked his first tee shot out of play. But he escaped with a bogey, and that was the only big blunder of the round. He ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch starting on the 14th hole – the exception was a 4-foot birdie he missed at No. 16 – and seized control at the end of his round.
“Tasty,” is how Mickelson described the day afterward.
Indeed, he’s playing very well. But this is hardly a done deal.
Watney hasn’t made a single bogey through 36 holes, the only player in the field who can say that. Until this week, he hadn’t broken 70 as a pro at Doral, and now finds himself in the final group for the third round of a World Golf Championships event.
“I feel pretty comfortable on this golf course and I’m playing very well and I’m putting well to start,” Watney said. “So pleased with the first two rounds, and as far as tomorrow goes, very excited to play with Phil. I’m looking forward to it.”
The group just ahead of Mickelson and Watney on Saturday is quite the generational pairing.
Perry is 48. McIlroy is 19.
Perry says he hasn’t seen McIlroy play before, but he’ll get 18 holes of up-close-and-personal viewing on Saturday.
“Everybody’s just talking about him,” said Perry, who shot 64 in the second round at Doral in 1991 and played the third round with Jack Nicklaus – the last time Perry gave himself credit for being in the hunt on the Blue Monster.
McIlroy was a newborn then.
“Just trying to get into contention on the back nine on Sunday, that’s all I’m trying to do,” McIlroy said. “That’s been my mind-set every tournament over the past year or so, and I’ve been able to play myself into those positions. On the weekend we’ll see what happens.”