AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson loves everything about Augusta National, and you can see it in his results. No matter what's happening in his life or his game, he finishes in the top 10, usually top five.
From his victories in '04 and '06, to his record-tying 30 on the front nine on Sunday last year, to his three straight third-place finishes from 2001 to '03, Phil thrills at Augusta like no place else.
He's at it again.
Mickelson hit 10 of 14 fairways, blistering an assortment of eye-popping drives — one nearly reached the crosswalk on the ninth fairway — and shot a one-under 71 Friday to get to within two of co-leaders Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
"I've putted and rolled the ball so good these last few days and caught so many lips," Mickelson said. "As soon as a couple of those 12-, 15-footers start to fall, I think I can get in the mid 60s."
Mickelson loves playing in the afternoon here, amid the beautiful light and shadows. He loves that he can swing as hard as he wants on the tee without fear that an overgrown patch of rough is going to expose and mock him if his ball goes astray.
As a result he is third in the field in driving distance through the first 36 holes Thursday and Friday, averaging more 295 yards per pop. (Only Alvaro Quiros and Dustin Johnson were longer. Quiros missed the cut; Johnson was at one under.)
But the popular lefty was tugging some of his approach shots, leaving long birdie looks (Nos. 1 and 12) and difficult two-putts for birdie. (For instance, on the par-5 13th and 15th holes; he three-putted for par on the latter).
He's not far off. Driving has always been his bugaboo, but on Friday he was hitting howitzers and finding fairways. He left himself with wedges into the ninth and 17th holes (par and birdie, respectively).
Now he merely needs to start putting like he did at the end of last year, when Mickelson won the Tour Championship and HSBC Champions in Shanghai to end the season. At Augusta on Friday, he somehow missed a two-foot putt on the fifth hole.
"I'm within two shots," Mickelson. "I'm playing very well, and I feel like I'm right on the edge."
Of course there were four other players who could claim the exact same thing as the light faded. One of them was Tiger Woods.