LOS ANGELES (AP) – Pat Perez hasn't gone up against Phil Mickelson since the opening round of the Match Play Championship four years ago.
“I lost,'' Perez said.
He was quick to point out, however, that they won't be going head-to-head this weekend at the Northern Trust Open. Even so, Mickelson appears to be as formidable as Riviera, or any other golf course.
Mickelson holed out a lob wedge from the eighth fairway for eagle on his way to 1-under 70. That turned out to be enough for a one-shot lead over Perez, who played Friday afternoon and kept bogeys off his card for a tournament-best 65.
“I'm not playing him,'' Perez said. “Obviously, he's playing well, and I'm going to have to play awfully well to beat him this weekend. I'm not worried about him. It'll be fun to play with him, but I know that I have to play well out there to beat everybody else, as well.''
At the moment, all eyes are on Mickelson.
He picked up his 40th career title with a memorable Sunday at Pebble Beach, where he rallied from six shots behind on the last day for a bogey-free 64 and a two-shot victory (beating Tiger Woods by 11 shots while paired with him in the final round).
Mickelson was at 6-under 136.
What made his second round impressive was that he didn't hit the ball particularly well, missed par putts inside 4 feet on the ninth and 18th hole, had only two birdie chances from inside 15 feet, and still managed to keep his name atop the leaderboard.
“I probably didn't play the greatest today, but I was able to kind of salvage a good round and had a good break on eight where I holed out from the fairway,'' he said. “That was a nice little bonus.''
The real bonus was his clutch putting.
He made an 18-foot par putt on the 10th hole to start out his second round. After a bunker shot on the par-3 14th hole, he knocked in a 10-foot par putt to keep his momentum. He holed another 10-foot par putt after being in a bunker on No. 3.
Those were just as important as the two signature shots of his second round.
Lefty couldn't get anything right until he got to the 16th, with a tee shot that just ran off the green about 30 feet away. He studied the chip from every angle, and before hitting the shot, leaned over to analyze a section of the green. It was softer, so that became his target with a low pitch that hit the ground quickly and ran to the cup like a putt.
Most players believe he is the best on tour with a wedge in hand, and it was a shot like this that explained why.
“If I flew it another 5 feet, it was going to be firm, so if I flew it 5 more feet and brought it in higher, I thought it would have raced 15 feet by,'' he said.
What eventually kept him in the lead for the third straight round was the wedge on the eighth hole from 110 yards away. Mickelson purposely played the shot some 20 feet left of the flag with side spin. He had been having trouble judging whether his ball would check or release on the greens, and he couldn't afford to go at the flag and be long.
It worked out, anyway. The ball zipped to the right and dropped in for eagle, as Mickelson raised both arms in celebration.
“It worked out perfect,'' he said. “There some shots you need a little bit of luck, where you're just trying to get it close. The chip-in on 18 last night, where it was so quick down that hill, I was just trying to get it close and salvage par. Certainly, I'm just trying to make birdie on 8, and the ball happens to go in.
“I've had a couple of good breaks.''
Perez saved his best shot for the final hole. He hit his tee shot on the 18th and was too far right, the green blocked by the eucalyptus trees. Perez cut a 6-iron, hopeful of finding the green, and it wound up 12 feet away for a birdie he wasn't expecting.
“I didn't hit it like you'd think I would,'' Perez said. “I didn't drive it all that great. I just scrambled well. I put myself in the right places to make par or birdie.''
The group at 4-under 138 included Jimmy Walker (66), Carl Pettersson (70), Jonathan Byrd (70), Marc Leishman (69) and Matt Kuchar (69), who had a solid day without too much excitement until he drilled his tee shot to a back left pin on No. 6 and left himself 5 feet for birdie. Before he could putt, he was stung in the arm by a bee.
“I haven't been stung by a bee in probably 20 years,'' Kuchar said. “I had stopped being scared of bees. The thing got me, and it was really painful. It was not much fun.''
Bubba Watson had a 69 and was in the group another shot back, while world No. 1 Luke Donald had a 72 and was only six shots out of the lead.
Joe Ogilvie delivered the shot of the day, making an ace on the 16th hole with a 7-iron. It was his third hole-in-one on the PGA Tour, and he has yet to win a prize. At least at a tour event, he didn't have to buy drinks.
“There were 10 guys up there that looked like they could drink 1,000 beers,'' he said. “I'm glad I didn't do this at my club.''
He shot 71 and was at even-par 142.
There were 26 players within five shots of the lead, which is not much at Riviera over 18 holes, much less the entire weekend. Even so, it looks different with Mickelson's name at the top, especially the way he won at Pebble Beach and is a two-time winner at Riviera.
Mickelson won't look too much into that, however. After signing autographs, he headed for the Santa Monica airport to fly home to San Diego – he is commuting this week, as usual – and figures the hard work is just now starting.
“I put myself in contention heading into the weekend, which is what my initial goal was,'' Mickelson said. “And so with 36 holes to go, I'm right in the thick of it. I've got to go out and shoot some low scores, because they're out there. But I gave myself an opportunity.''