After making the turn at two over on Thursday, Phil Mickelson seemed in danger of another short week. After a brilliant back nine, the five-time major champ now finds himself in contention.
Coming off consecutive missed cuts on the PGA Tour, Mickelson is trying his luck on the European Tour in this week's Saudi International. Phil's struggles seemed to travel with him to the Middle East after an early double bogey and two bogeys on his opening nine. But Mickelson responded with a flurry of birdies on the back, including this near hole-in-one on No. 11 where his tee shot grazed the flagstick before settling a couple feet away:
It was part of a seven-hole stretch in which Mickelson made six birdies and a bogey (of course).
A closing birdie gave him seven on the back nine and nine for the round. Add up the typical rollercoaster round from Phil and it was a four-under-par 66.
"Yeah, it was a great back nine," Mickelson told reporters after. "Part of the challenge for me is that I feel like I've been playing well but mentally I haven't been as sharp. I haven't been visualising and I haven't been seeing the shot clear. It was certainly evident early in the round where I made a couple of shots that weren't that hard that I made difficult.
"But the back nine, things really started to come together. Meaning I hit a lot of good shots. I started making the putts, and made a lot of birdies, and it was just a good back nine that gave me a good chance heading into tomorrow. I feel like my game is a lot sharper than I've been scoring, so it was nice having that back nine."
Graeme McDowell and Gavin Green lead at six under after opening 64s. Henrik Stenson, Adri Arnaus, and Sebastian Soderberg, who on Sunday played the fastest round in European Tour history, are at five under.
The 66 is the best score Mickelson has shot since an opening 65 at another desert golf course nearly four months ago at the Shriners Hospitals. But he's hoping for a much better finish than the T-61 he managed that week.
Mickelson, who will turn 50 in June, fell out of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in nearly 26 years a month after that disappointing result in Las Vegas. His OWGR free fall has continued to start 2020 with him entering this week at No. 86.