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Phil Mickelson » PGA TOUR

“Old Phil” Gains Still More Ground Heading Into Sunday

LA JOLLA, CA - JANUARY 31: Phil Mickelson stretches on the 12th tee on the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open on January 31, 2010 in La Jolla, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO (Jan. 30, 2010) – Thursday was anxious Phil. Friday was struggling Phil. Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open was it was Old Phil, playing from the trees, brilliant around the greens and moving up the leaderboard. It was a hold-on-to-your-hat 70 that left him at 9 under par for the tournament, four shots off the lead and playing in the third-last group on Sunday.

With all that going on it was easy for Mickelson to put aside what might have been a major distraction, the media fallout from Scott McCarron’s assertion that Mickelson was “cheating” by using an approved but non-conforming club.

Asked about all of that again on Saturday, Mickelson repeatedly said, “We all have our opinions on the matter but a line was crossed. After being publicly slandered I’ll let other people handle it.”

After hitting one of the first eight fairways and four of the last six, he left the course hoping to get some help from Butch Harmon, too. He had a text from his star pupil before Mickelson left the scoring trailer at Torrey Pines South.

“It’s disappointing because I was hitting it so well coming in here I was ready to start two weeks ago,” said Mickelson. “I think I was a little anxious, a little amped up, trying to hit it too hard. My timing and rhythm were off. It’s not far off and I think I can fix it.”

Saturday had it all: a par save from so far left of No. 4 that another few feet and he would have been playing his second from Black’s Beach, 300 feet below. And another on 18, where his second from the light left rough found the water fronting the green but after a spinning pitch he made an 8-foot putt.

There was the double bogey on 7 after his drive stayed in a massive eucalyptus tree and could not be identified, followed by a another drive that was slightly longer and wider left of the fairway.

There were the three birdies, two on par-5s thanks to his short game and one on 15 where for only the second time in the round he hit the fairway and green on the same hole in regulation. And there was the eagle on the long 13th. The really long 13th. There he hit the day’s longest drive, 324 yards to the heart of the fairway and a 269-yard 3-wood to 9 feet hole-high left.

“I’d been blocking everything so bad I was aiming way right, in the middle of the green,” said a grinning Mickelson, whose ball still ended up left, just above a rough-covered slope. “Turned out I pushed it just perfectly.”

So he scraped it around Torrey Pines again, this time having more fun, more luck, and, as he’d hoped after Thursday’s 70 left him in 40th place, continuing to build into the weekend. He was six shots and 39 players behind the leader that evening; Sunday morning he’ll be four back with just four guys four guys in front of him.

“If I throw in something in the mid- to high-60s,” he said, “I think I have a very good chance.”