After shaky start, Mickelson shoots 5-under 31 on his 2nd 9 at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course and sits tied with Louis Oosthuizen
Mickelson sank a 22½-foot birdie putt on the par-4 ninth hole, his final hole of the day after starting play on the front nine, to cap a 3-under 69 for a 36-hole total of 5-under 139. By the end of the day, he held a share of the lead with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, who settled for a 4-under 68 when he bogeyed the final hole, his lone miscue of the day.
Still, Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, called the round "one of my best." He was one of three South Africans among the top six players.
Mickelson’s closing theatrics overlapped with some drama occurring on the other side of the course as South Africa's Branden Grace, who was 4 under though 16 holes and leading the tournament at 6 under, rinsed his tee shot at the par-3 17th. Grace ultimately made double bogey, added a bogey at the 18th and signed for a 1-under 71, dropping to 3-under 141. He was tied for fourth with countryman Christiaan Bezuidenhout (70) and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (68), the reigning Masters champion. American Brooks Koepka shot 71 for solo third at 4-under 140. (For scores, click here.)
Told in a post-round interview on ESPN that he was in the lead, Mickelson brushed off any significance.
“If you were to tell me that Sunday night, I’d really enjoy it,” he said. “But the fact is that there’s a lot of work to do. I’m playing really well and really enjoying it.”
Mickelson, who will turn 51 next month, has won 44 times on the PGA Tour, including five major championships. He won the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. Mickelson hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since Feb. 11, 2019, at Pebble Beach, and he has dropped to No. 115 in the world ranking. Mickelson won his first two starts on the Champions Tour in 2020 after having turned 50 last June.
After making a birdie on his second hole, the par-4 11th, on Friday, Mickelson struggled on his front nine. He made three bogeys on the nine and made the turn in 2-over 38. But, he caught fire on his back nine, making birdies at Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9 for an inward 5-under 31.
“I’ve been playing really well,” Mickelson said. “I was a little shaky on 16, 17 and 18 with the putter. I was able to make some adjustments on the front nine, my back nine.”
He credited his brother/caddie, Tim, with making the necessary yardage calculations to account for winds that were gusting into the mid-20s mph.
“That type of adjustment is very difficult to do,” Mickelson said. “He’s been doing a phenomenal job, and we’ve been hitting a lot of shots pin-high.”
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