Mickelson pulls into contention in Open with a 66
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Graeme McDowell, the leader from Northern Ireland, had just said that Pebble Beach appeals to him because it has such "a British Open-type flavor."
Then the wind shifted on Friday. Phil Mickelson got hot amid the cool seaside breeze and changed the whole atmosphere.
Mickelson birdied the second hole, then the third and the fourth. Before you knew it, he had three more birdies and one bogey for a 5-under-par 66 that gave this U.S. Open a Bethpage-type flavor. He drew roars from people on the course and a message in the sand, "Go Phil," from folks on the beach below as he opened the Open to all kinds of possibilities.
He finished the second round at 1 under, two strokes behind McDowell, and raised the possibility that someone could easily make a run at any time over the weekend. And the someone might just be Mickelson, the Masters champion who is O-for-the Open lifetime.
What he called a "tweak" in his putting setup, following a talk with putting coach Dave Stockton, completely changed his mood. On Thursday, he was distraught about his "horrific" birdie-less putting. Friday, he was ebullient. It helped when he saw the first one go in.
It also helped that he kept getting himself in position, leaving the ball below the hole on the fast, bumpy poa annual greens. "I felt like I had a lot of easy pars," he said.
Mickelson, a three-time winner of the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, is tied with an eclectic group that includes Dustin Johnson, winner of the past two AT&Ts. Also tied are Ernie Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, and 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa. Tiger Woods shot 1-over-par 72 and is 4 over, tied for 25th place.
"I'm in a good spot," Mickelson said. "I don't look at the leader board, I look at par. This is the only tournament, really, in professional golf today that brings out Bobby Jones' old saying of 'Playing against Old Man Par.' ''
McDowell is formidable. The 30-year-old from Portrush, Northern Ireland is a Ryder Cup player and five-time winner on the European Tour. The most recent win was the Wales Open two weeks ago. Might that be a jinx? "I subscribed to that thought in the past, no doubt about it," he said. "This week feels different, this win feels different.
He had just the right recipe on Friday, said Shaun Micheel, the first-round leader who played with McDowell: "He hit the ball well, he hit the ball in the fairway, he left the ball underneath the hole. When he missed the green, and I don't think he missed too many, he got the ball up and in.
"If he keeps playing like that," said Micheel, who shot 77 and is 4 over, "he's going to win."
McDowell said, "I feel like I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be. That doesn't mean my name is going to be on the trophy this Sunday afternoon."
Mickelson reveres the Open, at which he has finished second five times and the current site, which has hosted wins by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson (who made the cut Friday at 7 over) and Tom Kite as well as Woods.
"I think this is the greatest place to get to be in an Open," he said. "I think the guys who cherish the U.S. Open feel that way about Pebble Beach, and the guys who love the British Open feel that way about St. Andrews."
On Friday, he had a lot more people feeling excited about this Open. "I don't want the weekend to end," Mickelson said. "I want to keep playing."