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Birdies lift Mickelson atop Northern Trust

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Phil Mickelson played golf as spectacular as the weather at the Northern Trust Open on Friday, finishing with a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 7-under 64 and a four-shot lead.

Even after starting with a 68, Mickelson felt he was close to putting his game together. It started with a 3-iron to 12 feet on the par-5 first for a simple birdie, and built momentum with a 60-foot birdie on the fifth and never slowed.

When he finished his best score ever at Riviera, he was at 10-under 132 and in firm command going into the weekend.

This is a tournament that has eluded me, Mickelson said of the only city on the U.S. West Coast swing where he hasn’t won. The West Coast means a lot to me.

A year ago he lost in a playoff.

Robert Allenby, who won at Riviera in 2001 in the cold and rain, did OK in warm sunshine with a 66 that put him at 136 with Jeff Quinney, who made bogey on the final hole for a 67.

Mickelson and the top dozen players atop the leaderboard got one big break with the draw by playing early Thursday and in the afternoon on Friday, essentially avoiding the strongest of the wind that gusted along the eucalyptus trees lining the fairways.

For those who faced a cold wind on Thursday afternoon and more swirling breezes on Friday morning, the best anyone could muster was David Toms (68) and Kevin Sutherland (69), each at 3-under 139.

For the second straight day, not everyone finished the round.

So there will be a Saturday cut, quipped Rory Sabbatini on his way to the 18th tee as the sun began to dip behind the hill, and players were still just making the turn.

The Players Advisory Council recommended another change in policy to a Saturday cut if the field is more than 78 players. If approved, that wouldn’t happen until the Florida swing at the earliest. Otherwise, when the cut is more than 78 players, only the closest to 60 can play on the weekend, and the notorious Rule 78 looked as though it could happen for the third time in five events.

The cut won’t be made until six players finish the second round early Saturday.

With the field featuring 17 of the top 20 players in the world, five of them missed the cut, and Sergio Garcia at 3 over was on the verge of going home under Rule 78.

John Daly shot a 74 to finish at 1 over, but made his first cut of the year.

Scott McCarron, who nearly won this tournament in 2002, had a 65 and was part of a large group at 5-under 137 that included Scott Verplank, Chad Campbell and Vaughn Taylor.

Mickelson wasn’t about to practice posing with the trophy, and no one was conceding anything with 36 holes left to play on a course that was playing fast with the firm conditions.

If Phil is at 10 under, that’s fine, Allenby said. There’s a long way to go. There’s still 36 holes to go and a lot of birdies out there. I’ve made plenty of birdies here before, so there’s no reason why I can’t do it on the weekend.

Quinney will join Mickelson and Allenby in the final group. Quinney made a late surge up the leaderboard, including birdies on the 12th and 15th hole.

Even so, Mickelson appears to be hitting his stride.

He began pulling away after a three-putt bogey on the sixth hole, hitting wedge to 2 feet on No. 7 and a gap wedge with the breeze at his back on No. 9 to 12 feet. After going well left of the par-4 10th, he chipped to a 3 feet for birdie, then got up-and-down for his fourth birdie in five holes at the par-5 11th.

Even stronger was his finish, which began with a par.

Mickelson went long on the par-3 16th, leaving himself a downhill chip that went about 12 feet by the hole. He made that for his par, which kept momentum on his side for the closing holes.

The biggest shot that set up those two birdies was the par putt on 16, Mickelson said. It kept momentum of the round going and it didn’t let the round kind of slip away.

Mickelson didn’t have an answer for why he is playing so well on a course that was rarely part of his rotation. He has won 15 times in California and Arizona during his career, but never on the course off Sunset Boulevard. Until last year, Mickelson only played this tournament eight times, missing the cut in half of them and never faring better than a tie for 15th.

Mickelson has said this is one tournament he wants to win, but kept that in perspective.

I haven’t won the U.S. or British Open, either, and I really want to win those, he said. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Birdies lift Mickelson atop Northern Trust – found here.

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February 16, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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