Phil Mickelson goes on back-nine tear for two-shot lead in Furyk and Friends, thinks he can do better

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Here’s something scary: Phil Mickelson, at 11-under-par 133 through two rounds of the PGA Tour Champions Constellation Furyk & Friends, thinks he’s got a lot more in the tank than his two opening rounds of 66 on Friday and 67 on Saturday at the Timuquana Country Club.

“I felt like I played well, the scores were fine, but I feel like I have a really low one in me,” Mickelson said, looking ahead to Sunday’s final round. “I want to go try to shoot that number.”

Mickelson took off after a pedestrian front nine and played the first six holes of the back at 5-under, with a 12-foot eagle putt at the 13th hole. He surged past three players tied at 9-under, Miguel Angel Jimenez (65, the day’s low round), Steve Flesch (66, with a closing bogey after four birdies in a six-hole span) and playing partner Matt Gogel (69).

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Tied at 8-under is Ernie Els (who turned in a blazing finish for a 67), David Toms (68) and Woody Austin (67). A group of six players at 6-under are led by U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker (67), tournament host Jim Furyk (69) and Mike Weir (69).

At one point when the final group was on the front nine, there was a four-way tie for first among Mickelson, Gogel, Weir and Darren Clarke, and 19 other players were within three shots of the lead.

But as a hot afternoon wore on, the leaders gave themselves more of a cushion and 13 players are within five shots of Mickelson, who had only one birdie on the front.

“I felt like I was hitting some good shots on the front nine, but they weren’t quite going the right distance or just weren’t quite working out,” he said. “Then the back … I went on a nice little tear. And I thought, ‘I’m having a lot of fun.’”

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Phil Mickelson's golf equipment through the years

Phil Mickelson's Callaway Golf bag
Phil Mickelson's Callaway Golf bag

Mickelson set up his eagle putt with a 7-iron from 195 yards out, then dropped a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-4 14th and scrambled out of the pine straw and trees at the par-5 15th to stitch together his final birdie of the day.

Mickelson nearly drove out-of-bounds at No. 16, found the ball to his relief, but had to pitch out and missed a 15-foot putt for par. He then two-putted the final two holes.

Fans line the area around the ninth green of the Timuquana Country Club on Saturday during the second round of the Constellation Furyk & Friends.
Mickelson said he’s left some shots on the course, but usually feels that way regardless of how low he goes.

“I’m sure we all do,” he said. “I had a bunch of good looks today, but I get a chance to come out here and play tomorrow. And I’m really enjoying the golf course, so it’s a fun opportunity to try to go low again and try to shoot the number that I feel I’m capable of.”

The two players who came from behind to catch Gogel at 9-under approach their scores in different ways — and both are on serious rolls in recent Champions Tour events.

Jimenez, the affable, cigar-smoking pro from Spain, was relentless with his iron shots to set up a series of short birdie putts on the back, four within a five-hole span.

“You can see [that he’s hitting his irons well] … hit it to 4 or 5 feet from the hole is very good, no?” Jimenez said. “It’s nice … nice course. You need to be very sharp with your irons.”

Jimenez has finished among the top-10 in his last four starts and on Saturday he posted a score in the 60s for the eighth time in his last nine rounds.

He will be gunning for his third PGA Tour Champions title this season, and the 11th of his career.

Flesch, on the other hand, did his hard work on the tricky Timuquana greens.

He drained three putts of 15 feet or longer on the back nine and said going to an “armlock” method of putting has helped in recent events, in which he’s finished 13th or higher six times in seven starts, with four top-10s.

“The ball just gets on line better for me doing it,” he said. “The shorter ones tend to be easier because the ball’s on line, right off the bat. So I’m thrilled with it.”

Worth watching will be Els, the four-time major champion who was 1-over at the turn. He birdied the 10th hole to kick-start a back-nine 30 that included an eagle at No. 15 and three more birdies.

Mickelson wasn’t discounting anyone’s chances.

“They’re playing some good golf, so I have to keep doing the same thing,” he said. “Playing aggressive, driving the ball in play, hit some good iron shots and give myself some putts and hopefully make some.”