Phil Mickelson up to his old tricks at Northern Trust; takes outright lead (then gives it up)

August 24, 2018

Phil Mickelson was up to his old tricks on Friday at the Northern Trust Open, running off a string of early birdies and then hanging on for dear life as he took the lead — then lost it — in an exciting three-under 68.

It had already been a big week off the course for Lefty. Mickelson made waves on Wednesday when he joined Twitter (a move announced with a rare self-gif). The social media push revealed itself as a calculated play when, later in the day, Mickelson and Tiger Woods announced further details of their Thanksgiving showdown, a $9 million match to be played at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.

But on the course, Mickelson was hoping to make a case for himself as a pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Captain Jim Furyk has two weeks until he selects three captain’s picks, and Mickelson is expected to be in that group. He made it look like a no-brainer on Friday, though in typical Phil fashion there was a little bit of everything during the 48-year-old’s round. Isn’t there always?

Mickelson teed off on No. 9 at Ridgewood Country Club and promptly birdied his first four holes.

The most unusual moment in Mickelson’s early stretch did not come from those birdies but instead from a bogey at the par-5 13th. Facing a 75-foot birdie putt, Mickelson elected to chip from the front edge of the green. He judged the distance precisely but would go on to miss the ensuing par putt — though he made sure to replace his divot.

He took the outright lead with a birdie at the par-4 1st hole.

Mickelson was up to tricks of a different kind on his later holes. Up-and-down from the bunker at No. 2 for par. A three-putt for another par at No. 3. Shouts of “Fore right!” at 5 (another par) and 7 (a bogey). Another errant tee shot at his final hole led to a second consecutive bogey, at which point he yielded his share of the lead to Patrick Cantlay. With the bogey, he joined a clump on the leaderboard, sharing second place with four others while dozens more lurked within two shots.

“My touch on the greens is getting better, I’ve been making some putts,” Mickelson said. “It’s one of those things where as the week goes on it’s just going to get better.”

Mickelson has not finished in the top five since the Wells Fargo Championship in early May. He’ll try to change that on the weekend in New Jersey.