If you thought Phil Mickelson was done as a major contender, think again! After five birdies over the last eight holes of his second round, he claimed the clubhouse lead at the PGA Championship.
Mickelson may have had an anxious eye on the cut line when, after an early birdie at the 11th, he bogeyed 13, 17 and 18 to slip back to level par for the tournament and needing a solid front nine at Kiawah Island to halt the slide.
Instead, he roared back up the leaderboard with some vintage golf and revived his unlikely challenge with a birdie at the long second followed by a trademark, towering approach from close to 200 yards to three feet at the fourth, setting up a third birdie of the day.
The fourth arrived on the next hole, converting a well-struck 225-yard tee shot to 15 feet and, after a long-range two-putt for birdie at the long seventh, he provided further delight for the large galleries surrounding the ninth green, holing from just outside 20 feet to cap a brilliant 69.
And moments later, he had the outright lead when previous incumbent, Branden Grace, pushed his tee shot to the 17th into the water and ran up a double-bogey five which dropped him back to four under par.
“I’m having a lot of fun, and to play well, to know I’m playing well heading into the weekend, to be in contention, to have a good opportunity, I’m having a blast,” said Mickelson, who will turn 51 next month. “I’m excited for the weekend. This has been a lot of fun.
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“I’ve driven it well, but I think the thing I’ve done the best is my brother Tim and I have done a really good job of judging the wind, judging the flight and picking clubs with the right flight to get the right distance, and so we’ve hit a lot of iron shots pin high.
“I was patient even though things weren’t quite going well at the moment, and I had a few shaky strokes on 16, 17 and 18 where I was very tentative. But I was able to make an adjustment on the front and ended up making some really good putts. I putted very well.
“I’ve been able to make some adjustments and not let a couple of the poor shots or poor strokes affect the overall round, which is something I haven’t been doing as well, certainly not as well as I’ve been doing the last two days. It’s been nice to make those adjustments and be able to get those strokes back.”
Mickelson’s exploits impressed playing-partner Padraig Harrington, who was two under for the championship with seven to play before faltering down the stretch, dropping three shots and signing for a 73 which was enough to get him safely though to the weekend on level par.
“In the position Phil is, I expect him to contend, and I wouldn’t put it past him being there at the end of the week, for sure,” said the European Ryder Cup captain, who hasn’t made the cut at a major since the PGA in 2016.
“I think he has the bit between his teeth. I think he believes he can do it in these conditions, just like myself. I think myself, Phil would find it easier to compete on this style of golf course in these conditions in a major tournament all the time.
“You can be patient in these courses, and obviously you’ve got to make a few birdies, but it suits somebody who is a player, somebody who is thinking.
“Phil works hard. I know I work hard at my game to try and be competitive at this level. I really want to be competitive with the young guys, and physically I am. Sometimes mentally not.
“Certainly my own respect, what I see here this week, I’m easily able to swing the club well enough, and my routine and my mental game has been a lot better.
“I’m bullish about where I am and I’m sure Phil is, too. From watching from the outside with Phil, he’s prepared to push no matter what. He’s not here to make the cut, even 15th would be a disappointment.
“You know what? Even second would be a disappointment for Phil!”
Live PGA Championship Golf
May 22, 2021, 1:00pm
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