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With adoring fans behind him, Phil Mickelson hopes for a magical weekend at PGA Championship


The roar could be heard around the Ocean Course, and beyond, cutting through the wind that’s been howling off the South Carolina coast this week, the same breeze that has played havoc on this tournament.

But nothing was going to suppress this celebration when Phil Mickelson’s 23-foot birdie putt dropped into the center of the cup capping a 3-under 69 that gave him the early lead in the second round of the PGA Championship. Mickelson’s putt capped a 31 on his second nine that put him at 5-under for the tournament and energized a crowd that was growing with each birdie.

The man known as “Lefty” pumped his left fist, retrieved his ball and twice tipped his cap as he walked off that ninth green.

“It’s really fun, obviously, to make a putt on the last hole, finish a round like that and then to have that type of support here has been pretty special,” Mickelson said.

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Fun just begins to describe the 50-year-old soon-to-be Jupiter Island resident’s first two days of his 112th major tournament. Phil has worked through that “scar tissue” – something Padraig Harrington, one of his playing partners the last two days, says 50-somethings must overcome – and of course, the unpredictable challenges of this “diabolical” (Bryson DeChambeau’s description) course to put himself in position to accomplish something he has not done in eight years – win a major.

“To be in contention, to have a good opportunity, I’m having a blast,” he said. “I’m excited for the weekend.”

Only one other golfer in the world juices crowds as Mickelson does, and Tiger Woods will finish this year without swinging a club in a competitive round after surviving a scary car crash in February that caused major damage to his leg and ankle. Phil isn’t Tiger, but he’s not as far behind as some may think when it comes to appeal and popularity. And the distance between Phil and the next guy, whoever that may be at the time, isn’t even close.

Two years since Mickelson’s last win on Tour

And this is despite it being more than two years since Phil held a PGA Tour trophy. His win at the 2019 Pebble Beach Pro-Am was his 44th and most recent on the PGA Tour, and that includes five majors.

Phil has battled age as all athletes do. But he insists his issues are not physical, saying he can still do everything he wants, and needs, with the club. Take the first two rounds. Thursday, he was 15th in driving distance, averaging more than 303 yards off the tee. Friday, he made three birdie putts of at least 11 feet and had drives (albeit wind-aided) of 342 and 345 on holes No. 7 and 9.

For him, it’s been focus, which came into play two weeks ago at Quail Hollow in Charlotte when he had an opening-round 64 and followed that with a 75 and two 76s. He went from leading the tournament to finishing 69th.

He’s making progress with longer meditation and more golf.

“I’m working on it,” he said. “I’m making more and more progress just by trying to elongate my focus. I might try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much. I might try to elongate the time that I end up meditating.

“But I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it because as I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.”

That focus was pin-point sharp in each of the first two rounds as the day got longer and the winds got stronger.

Jason Day, Phil’s other playing partner, treated us with baseball analogies when describing Phil’s game Friday.

“There was no foul balls,” Day said. “Usually with Phil, you can get some pretty wide ones, and he kept it straight out in front of him.

“When he was out of position, he just kind of … you know Phil, get up-and-down. But no kind of off-the-map drives that get him out of position, make it really tough on him. So he’s driving it really straight.”

Straight enough to hit 11 of 14 fairways Friday, five more than Thursday.

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Harrington said. “The position he is in, I expect him to contend and I wouldn’t put it past him being there at the end of the week, for sure.”

Which means that Wannamaker Trophy is starting to come into focus.

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