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Mickelson needs big charge

Lefty is confident he can close gap

Saturday, April 09, 2011

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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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