By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- When Phil Mickelson launched an 8-iron to a mere 3 inches for an eagle at the first hole, he was fairly certain Friday was going to be a good one.
Granted, he could have done without that double bogey at the driveable 10th hole -- "It took a great round and just turned it into a pretty good one," Mickelson acknowledged. But he closed with three birdies over his final eight holes and suddenly finds himself in contention for his third Northern Trust Open title in the last six years.
"I just need a good round tomorrow to get right in it for Sunday," said Mickelson, who lost in a playoff last year.
Mickelson played Riviera's three par 5s in 4 under on Friday, chipping to 16 inches at the 11th hole and two-putting from 36 feet at the 17th to complement the opening eagle. He used just 25 putts while hitting six fairways (double the total from the first round) and 10 greens in regulation.
"I really like the way the swing started to feel today," Mickelson said. "I hit some really good shots. ... It's tough to get the ball close to the hole on those greens and I know that, so I try to be patient, and on the holes where I really need to make birdie, like 11 and 17, I ended up hitting the shots that I needed to to make birdies."
The 10th hole, which had relinquished a birdie in the first round, proved to be Mickelson's Waterloo on Friday. His drive on the 313-yard par 4 veered way left into the trees and he "fatted" his second shot into the chipping area. He bladed his third shot across the green into the bunker, blasted out and missed a 6-footer for bogey.
"It was a really precise shot," Mickelson said when asked about the wedge he sent into the greenside bunker. "I mean, as tight as these areas around the green that are shaved, it's tough to get a wedge underneath it, I really didn't have a chance.
"I could have putted it 25 feet to the side. Looking back, it would have saved me a shot but that's not really how I like to play."
Mickelson, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago, will have another chance to exact revenge there on Saturday.
"I felt like today my game was pretty sharp," Mickelson said. "I drove the ball well. Hit some pretty good iron shots. Hit a lot of iron shots the way I wanted to, and I feel like I'm putting good. So I just need to put it together for the right number."