Mickelson battles balky putter, fatigue to stay in hunt
With five holes left in Friday’s round, Phil Mickelson was right where he wanted to be.
A birdie on No. 13 moved the three-time Masters champion to 2-under for the day and 3-under for the tournament, just one shot off the lead.
Mickelson couldn’t maintain that position, making bogey on three of the final five holes. The result was a 1-over 73, which dropped him back to even par for the tourney, but hardly out of position to make a run at his fourth green jacket.
“Man, I fought hard today,” Mickelson said. “It was a hard, difficult day and I’m really tired. It was obvious there in the end. I played the last five holes very poorly after a really good round.
“But I’m even par through two rounds. I’m four back. I’m in a good spot heading into the weekend, I just feel I should be a few more ahead.”
After relishing another windy day Friday at Augusta National following his opening 71, Mickelson experienced a dose of “careful what you wish for.” The wind blew again, and this time it had more of an effect on Mickelson, particularly late.
He missed the last four greens in regulation and had both of his three-putts in the round on the back nine. The first came on No. 11, negating his birdie on No. 10, and the next came on 14 following another birdie on No. 13.
Mickelson also made bogey on 16 and 17, missing the green right on the par-3 16th and finding the left front bunker on 17. Only a wedge to a foot on the final hole after missing the green short kept Mickelson from making bogey on the final three holes.
“I had some easy pars that I made bogeys on and you just can’t do that,” Mickelson said. “I hit two perfect shots on 11 to 50 feet and I hit a terrible first putt and three-putt. I hit a sand wedge after a great drive on 14, hit a terrible shot to 30 feet and a terrible putt. I just can’t do that as well as I’ve been playing at this venue.”
Mickelson made an early charge up the leaderboard, offsetting a bogey on the first hole with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3, each time hitting to four feet to get to 2 under and within striking distance of the 4-under lead.
Birdies on 7 and 10 following a bogey at 5 moved Mickelson one shot off the lead at 3 under, but ultimately his second-nine woes cost him.
“I struggled a little bit with the putter today and hopefully with the calm conditions I’ll get that thing dialed in tomorrow because I’ve been putting really well,” said Mickelson, who had the same number of putts Friday (28) as he did in Thursday’s opening round, albeit one more three-putt. “If I can have a good putting weekend, I’m going to have a good chance.”
Mickelson’s last Masters title came in 2010, his third in a seven-year stretch. Since then he’s finished in the top five twice, including a tie for second in 2015 behind Jordan Spieth.
Mickelson and Spieth will be paired in Saturday’s third round, going off a 2:10 p.m.