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The eagle has landed for Phil Mickelson

His second round is mostly grit, but one great shot helps him lead by one at the halfway point at Riviera.

February 17, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Phil Mickelson follows through on his tee shot at No. 5 on Friday during the second round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.
Phil Mickelson follows through on his tee shot at No. 5 on Friday during the… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Phil Mickelson has a knack for finding creative routes to good places.

He is commuting from his home in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, by flying his own plane into Santa Monica Airport, to play in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

While legions of others spend a couple of hours just negotiating the three miles up Sunset Boulevard from the course to the 405 Freeway (and that's not exaggerating), Mickelson makes it from door to course in 75 minutes.

And once on the course, Mickelson has also found the right spots, sometimes from far-away places, twice holing out from off the green Friday

After two rounds, Mickelson has a one-shot lead over Pat Perez, who tied for low round of the day with a 65 Friday. Perez, a 35-year-old from Phoenix, has only one PGA Tour victory to his credit, the 2009 Bob Hope Classic.

Mickelson's second-round score of one-under-par 70 gave him a two-day total of six-under 136 at the halfway mark.

Five others, including Australian Jarrod Lyle, who also had a 65, are tied for third, two shots behind Mickelson.

Mickelson is aiming for his second win in a row after he shot a final-round 64 on Sunday to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and because he's the leader, it's easy to ignore the bogey fives at the seventh and ninth holes Mickelson had Friday.

His outstanding moment, though, was spectacular and lead-saving.

Mickelson hit a lob wedge from 110 yards as his second shot on the 460-yard eighth hole, his 17th. The ball bounced onto the green and backed up into the cup for an eagle two.

That two was sandwiched between the bogeys where Mickelson missed uphill par putts. If he didn't exactly blame the grass, Mickelson suggested the greens were inconsistent.

"There was a lot of unsmoothness around the holes," Mickelson said. Asked if "unsmoothness" was another way to say bumpy, Mickelson said, "Yeah, that would probably be another adjective. I was trying to say it a little nicer."

Mickelson also had a chip-in birdie on the par-three 16th hole, where he seemed to inspect the green as if he were a detective looking for clues before hitting the shot.

"What I did was hit it a little more aggressive into the green because it was soft there, and if I flew it another five feet it was going to be firm. If I flew it five more feet and brought the ball in higher, I thought it would have raced 15 feet by. So I hit into the soft spot and kind of tried to get it to stop."

The ball stopped in the hole.

Listening to Mickelson describe how his golf brain works is almost as interesting as watching his golf shots.

For example, his description of hitting a lob wedge for his eighth-hole eagle included a long explanation of how the greens weren't behaving as he expected — when he expected balls to stop and stay they would bounce and roll and vice versa — ultimately he said called the shot he hit "kind of a sling hook."

"I felt with that shot I could be short or long and be OK. It kind of spun right in the hole. So it worked out just perfect," Mickelson said.

Mickelson saved par three times from farther than 10 feet from the hole, including at No. 10 after going bunker to bunker. He said his round was one of grit more than greatness. "I was able to salvage a good round," Mickelson said, "and got a good break on eight.

"I put myself in contention heading into the weekend. I'm right in the thick of it. I've got to go out and shoot some low scores because they're out there. But I have myself an opportunity."

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