Phil Mickelson followed his opening 75 at Pebble Beach with a major second-day announcement, shooting 4-under 31 on the front nine Friday on his way to 5-under 66 — two shots behind 36-hole leader Graeme McDowell in the U.S. Open.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Phil Mickelson started a cold, dank, overcast day tied for 66th place, yet somehow ended up two nights’ sleep from his first U.S. Open championship, coaxing birdies out of beachfront property that was playing way over par for the course.
Mickelson followed his opening 75 at Pebble Beach with a major second-day announcement, shooting 4-under 31 on the front nine Friday on his way to 5-under 66 — two shots behind 36-hole leader Graeme McDowell.
A 66 was really something on a course playing almost 75 to the field.
“I felt like I wasn’t overly stressed the entire round,” Mickelson said.
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At 1-under 141 overall, Mickelson picked himself up by his bag straps after Thursday’s thud. Lefty positioned himself for a comeback befitting Ben Hogan, who won the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills after shooting a first-round 76.
Others will have something to say about what happens over the weekend.
Northern Ireland’s McDowell shot 3-under 68 in his Friday-morning round and took 3-under 139 to the clubhouse.
Ernie Els, the South African with two U.S. Open trophies on his shelf, outplayed the main attraction in his group, Tiger Woods, to shoot a 68 to stand at 141, tied with Mickelson.
Dustin Johnson, an American who has won the last two PGA Tour events at Pebble Beach, and Ryo Ishikawa, an 18-year-old Japanese sensation, are also two shots behind McDowell.
Woods began Friday looking for some upward leaderboard movement but actually moved back with his 72.
Woods is at 4-over 146 and maintains he is in prime striking position, perhaps forgetting he hasn’t won a tournament since November.
“I feel good,” Woods said. “I’m right there. … I’m right there in the championship.”
Not nearly as “there” as Mickelson, who birdied five of his first eight holes before ruining a perfectly incredible front-nine 30 with his bogey at No. 9.
A day after posting no birdies, Mickelson reeled off six.
What happened between Thursday and Friday?
Mickelson said he made a slight adjustment in his putting.
“It was just a minor tweak here and there,” he said.
Mickelson could end up in a Sunday fight with Els — another 40-year-old multi-major winner — who played like Big Easy just up the coast from Big Sur.
Els won his first U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1994 and his second three years later at Congressional, not understanding at the time the enormity of his accomplishments.
“It’s amazing to think I was 24 when I won this event at Oakmont,” Els said. “I must have been out of my head to think I could have won at 24.”
McDowell, 30, was not the player from Northern Ireland everyone thought could be the 36-hole leader.
The buzz coming into the week was all about 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, who had an impressive victory at Quail Hollow.
Despite recognizing McIlroy as a close friend, McDowell said his countryman might not have the temperament yet to put together this Pebble puzzle.
“Rory plays gung-ho golf,” McDowell said.
“He’s a kid. He grips it and rips it. … It’s not U.S. Open golf.
McIlroy gripped and ripped a 75-77 over two days here and will enjoy the weekend as a spectator, missing the 7-over cut by three shots.
McDowell is the studious type, calculating wind speeds and angles. He spoke of the “heavy breeze” at Pebble Beach while admitting you probably could not, technically, weigh the wind.
McDowell is no interloper, though, coming off a victory at the Celtic Manor Wales Open. He also finished 10th at the 2009 British Open, his best result in a major — until now?
“I’m not seeing the battle with the rest of the field,” he said. “I’m seeing the battle with myself and the golf course.”
Ryan Moore (73) of Puyallup was tied for 48th at 6 over. Amateur Andrew Putnam (76-78 — 154) of University Place missed the cut.