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Mickelson needs big charge

Lefty is confident he can close gap

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Phil Mickelson walked off the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday with the confidence and swagger of a man ready to win his fourth green jacket. The fact that he was eight strokes behind leader Rory McIlroy at the time and tied for 20th after a mediocre round of even-par 72 with four birdies and four bogeys didn't seem to phase him.

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on No. 4. The defending champion had a 72 on Friday, leaving him eight shots off the lead. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

"There's a lot of golf left in this tournament," Mickelson said. "And I'm going to be making a run at him and the other guys ahead of me here on Saturday."

Though his short game is faulty and his drives have found more pine straw than fairway grass -- his 13 of 28 fairways hit ranked 98th in the field of 99 -- he heads into the weekend at 2-under par for the tournament. He has a few roar-inducing shots to thank for it.

His hook around the pine trees at No. 7 rolled to within a foot of the cup for his second birdie of the day. A second shot with a 3-wood out of the pine straw on the par-5 eighth hole also found the green.

And in a shot reminiscent of his risky smash through the pines at the 13th a year ago, the reigning Masters champion navigated his ball through a small opening between trees right of the 17th fairway and landed the approach shot on the green. It was "just enough room for a ball to fit," he said.

"It's a playground for Phil," said Fred Couples, who played a practice round with Mickelson on Wednesday. "This is a playground and he has a great imagination, so when he gets in these places, he gets very excited to have these difficult shots."

But Mickelson failed to convert his creative approaches into low scores and a climb up the leaderboard. He called his low line drive through the pines on No. 17 his most difficult shot of the day, but the following two-putt for par left him shaking his head. If he does slip on a fourth green jacket Sunday afternoon, he'll have to overcome his highest two-round total at Augusta in four years.

Mickelson misses a birdie putt on No. 16. "I left too many shots out there,'' he said. He has his highest two-round total (142) at the Masters Tournament in four years. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

"I left a lot of shots out there. With my short game, I saved par a lot the first day and felt really sharp. Today I was just a little bit off," he said. "There were six times I thought I would get up and down and I didn't. I can't afford to do that because that's my game plan, to give myself angles to where I can take advantage of my short game. I left too many shots out there."

Mickelson played with a second driver in the bag Friday, leaving behind his 3-iron. He said he used the longer driver on every tee but No. 11, including the par-5s, where he's 4-under for the tournament.

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.

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