Mickelson still in the hunt through two rounds at Whistling Straits

August 14, 2010

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Twenty-five holes and 12 hours later, Phil Mickelson is lurking at the PGA Championship.

Mickelson is not in immediate contention. He finished his fog-delayed first round Friday morning with a 73 after playing the last seven holes, then rallied with four birdies on his closing nine in his afternoon round — as the winds increased — to shoot 69.

You can’t say Mickelson is in the thick of contention. When Mickelson finished his second round, Matt Kuchar held the lead at eight under par. Phil is six back. But you can’t say Mickelson is out of it, either. Six shots can be made up in one round. The PGA still has 36 holes to go, and a lot of wild weather yet to come.

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“It’s been a long day,” Mickelson said early Friday evening after his round. “I’m playing well, I thought. I drove it in some terrible spots the first 27 holes, but I drove it better coming in. This is a penalizing golf course where I was driving it. To keep it around par for the first 27 holes was a feat.

“I fought hard today, and I’m still within striking distance.”

Mickelson’s afternoon round was marred by a double bogey at the 18th hole, his ninth. He drove into one of those insidious, narrow Pete Dye bunkers in the left rough. From there, he hit his approach shot into trouble and ended up with a lengthy bogey putt, which he missed. That dropped him back to one over par for the tournament.

He took advantage of the par 5s, getting close to the second green in two. His short pitch from the left rough wasn’t very good (by his standards), but he rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt and drew a big cheer from a strongly pro-Phil gallery. First up on the tee at the par-3 third hole, he dropped an iron shot to within a foot of the cup in a strong crosswind. The fans standing on the mangy hillside gave him a raucous welcome when he walked onto the green. He gave them a wave of acknowledgment as he finished drinking out of a water bottle. When he made the birdie putt, he got another roar.

At the fourth tee, he lost his drive to the left and was so disgusted with himself that he made a left-handed, baseball-style swing at an imaginary waist-high pitch, shook his head, then stepped over to the side of the tee, smiled in chagrin and shook his head again. He stared out at the waves on adjacent Lake Michigan while Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen hit their tee shots.

Mickelson’s drive found another bunker, and, like his playing companions, he wasn’t able to reach the green in two. He played a high lob shot from a grassy knoll just short of the green, a good shot to five feet, but lipped out that par putt as it began to rain, water droplets dotting the sandy bunkers with tiny wet circles.

The fourth hole is on the southern end of the Straits course and the wind was coming from the southeast, so the next three holes played downwind. Mickelson got a mandatory birdie at the par-5 fifth hole and another at the eighth to keep his hopes of winning alive.

“I shot 10 under on the weekend at Augusta this year and was able to leapfrog everybody,” Mickelson said. “I just want to be in position to do that again. I’d like to be eight or nine under right now, but I feel confident with the putter. I feel like I can shoot five or six or seven under and get back into it.”