Thunder, Lightning Slow Phil's Comeback

June 11, 2009

Gay, who won the Verizon Heritage earlier this season would get into the U.S. Open with a second victory.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Phil Mickelson is looking a bit more at ease, the golf course providing some of the distraction he wanted while he and his wife deals with her breast cancer. Now if he can just his putter back under control. Mickelson just missed a couple birdie attempts Friday, then cost himself a stroke when a par putt lipped out. Not that he got the chance to correct his stroke during the second round of the St. Jude Classic. He marked his tee shot in the 16th fairway, got a ride off the course and jumped into his car after play was stopped ahead of thunderstorms that had tornado sirens wailing. Play was halted and fans and players were cleared from the TPC Southwind course when the horn sounded 10 minutes before thunder could be heard on Friday. Tornado sirens then went off approximately 40 minutes after play was stopped with the storm tossing equipment around the course and knocking power out in parts of town. Brian Gay held the clubhouse lead after a 4-under 66 put him at 10-under 130 through 36 holes, two strokes ahead of Robert Allenby and Bryce Molder (63), with Allenby having three holes to play. A total of 78 golfers still must finish when the second round resumes Saturday morning. Mickelson was at 4 under with three birdies and a bogey in his first event since announcing his wife has breast cancer. This is a tuneup for the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, and his preparation showed when he pulled an iron instead of driver or a wood on the tee a couple times Friday. Hundreds of fans followed Mickelson from hole to hole yet again at the TPC Southwind course, many wearing pink in support of Mickelson and the fight against breast cancer. "The star this week is Phil Mickelson," said John Senden, who shot a 66. Mickelson appeared much more relaxed Friday, even laughing a couple times during breaks with playing partner Padraig Harrington. He started tied for 19th at 2 under and began with three straight pars on a day with almost no wind and near perfect scoring conditions until the storm approached. He finally got going with a birdie on No. 4 — the first of three birdies over the next six holes. He mashed his drive 348 yards on the par-4 ninth, staying dry when his ball stopped within a few feet right of the pond guarding the front left of the green. He stuck his approach within 5 feet from the pin and rolled in another putt for birdie to move to 5 under. Then came the struggles with the putter. Mickelson left a birdie attempt short on No. 11 and had to tap in for par. He pulled an iron off the tee on the par-4 No. 12 and laid up to avoid the lake along the right fairway before dropping his second shot 12 feet from the cup. His birdie attempt rolled just right of the hole and a couple feet past. Then Mickelson pushed his drive into the rough, coming up a couple feet short of knee-high weeds. He bogeyed the hole but not because of that drive. He missed a 25-footer for birdie, then lipped out a 3-footer for par when the ball hit the back of the cup and turned out right. He laid up again on the par-4 15th and had a short birdie putt he pushed a couple feet past with his frustration starting to show. Mickelson rebounded with a strong drive on the par-5 16th, a good scoring hole especially with him 210 yards away. The horn blasted so he handed his ball to his caddie, got into a cart and was driven off the course. He didn't stop to talk as he headed to his car to beat a storm with sideways rain and winds that tossed equipment across the course. Woody Austin (66) was at 133 in a group that included David Toms, the two-time champ here who was at 7 under with four to play. Rich Beam (68) and Loren Roberts (67) were among those tied at 134. John Daly was even par after a 68. Gay birdied five of his first eight holes and got as low as 12 under when he birdied the par-4 12th and 15th to become the first to reach 12 under. But he bogeyed his final two holes and fell back to 10-under 130 through 36 holes. It's the third time Gay has led after 36 holes but the 130 total is the best of his career. He needed only 23 putts Friday and has a tournament-best 14 birdies after picking up in the morning where he left off the first round Thursday afternoon. He won at Hilton Head in April by 10 strokes and said he likes to be in the lead. "I did pretty good being ahead last time, so I was telling myself on the back nine out there to, I was really trying to push and try to make as many birdies as I could but ... probably pulled the wrong club on a couple holes coming in," Gay said. Allenby lost here in a playoff a year ago. He had just bogeyed No. 6 when the horn sounded. With humidity making conditions very sticky, he doesn't mind coming back Saturday. "I'll probably look at it as a bonus. To get off the golf course, rest and rest up well tonight and get ready for tomorrow. Sure tomorrow is going to be a long day, but that's fine," Allenby said.