LOS ANGELES (AP) — Phil Mickelson wasn’t at his best Friday at Riviera. Two shots at least helped him stay in the lead.
Despite having only two birdie chances inside 15 feet, Mickelson holed out from the eighth fairway for eagle and chipped in for birdie on the par-3 16th. That carried him to a 1-under 70 and a two-shot lead in the Northern Trust Open.
Mickelson made three par saves from outside 10 feet, starting with his opening hole at the par-4 10th. He went from the front bunker to the back bunker, blasted out safely to 18 feet and curled in the par putt.
That set the tone for a day that only looked good on the scorecard.
“I probably didn’t play the greatest today, but I was able to kind of salvage a good round and had a good break on eight where I holed out from the fairway,” he said. “That was a nice little bonus.”
He was at 6-under 136 among those who finished early at Riviera in mild temperatures and not nearly as much wind as the opening round. That didn’t affect the scoring. There was just enough rain earlier in the week that with foot traffic on the greens, those short putts are no longer as easy to make.
Jimmy Walker had a 66 and was tied for second at 138 along with Carl Pettersson (70) and Matt Kuchar (69), who had a solid day without too much excitement until he drilled his tee shot to a back left pin on No. 6 and left himself 5 feet for birdie.
Before he could putt, he was stung by a bee in his arm.
“I haven’t been stung by a bee in probably 20 years,” Kuchar said. “I had stopped being scared of bees. The thing got me, and it was really painful. It was not much fun.”
Kuchar said his elbow felt as though it were on fire. If that wasn’t enough, there was the advice from the medical staff.
“They said if you have trouble breathing, stop and we’ll try to help you from there,” he said. “But thankfully, everything continued to go pretty normally.”
The 10th hole was entertaining as ever. Even with the hole location toward the back right of the green, players tried to drive the green. Rocco Mediate thought his shot was perfect, but it hopped into the front bunker and left him little hope. His next shot flew out of the sand, over the green and banged off a television tower, back into another bunker. He saved par.
“This is the coolest hole,” Mediate said. “My favorite place.”
Mickelson was on the ropes early until his great bunker-bunker par save on No. 10. The trouble was getting the ball close. Mickelson tried to hit a pitching wedge on the 13th and have it run toward the hole, but it checked up and left him 50 feet. On the 15th, he hit 8-iron to stop near the whole, and it released some 40 feet.
Lefty couldn’t get anything right until he got to the 16th, with a tee shot that just ran off the green about 30 feet away. He studied the chip from every angle, and before hitting the shot, leaned over to analyze a section of the green. It was softer, so that became his target with a low pitch that hit the ground quickly and ran to the cup like a putt.
“If I flew it another 5 feet, it was going to be firm, so if I flew it 5 more feet and brought it in higher, I thought it would have raced 15 feet by,” he said.
He ended both nines by missing par putts inside 5 feet, but the eagle atoned for that. Wary of how the greens were earlier in the round, Mickelson said he couldn’t afford his wedge on No. 8 to go long, so he played it out to the right with side spin, and it spun back into the hole.
It added to a decent score, one that kept him atop the leaderboard for the third straight round, dating to the 64 that Mickelson shot in the final round Sunday to win at Pebble Beach.
“I put myself in contention heading into the weekend, which is what my initial goal was,” Mickelson said. “And so with 36 holes to go, I’m right in the thick of it. I’ve got to go out and shoot some low scores, because they’re out there. But I gave myself an opportunity.”
Tim Clark, meanwhile, was headed home after an 82 and a smile. It was his first tournament since The Players Championship because of elbow surgery he had five months ago.
“I felt pretty good, to be honest,” Clark said. “I’m quite surprised with how my body actually felt. I wasn’t able to score at all. In terms of the arm, and how the body felt, I was quite encouraged.
“The fact I could get through 18 holes without having any pain is quite nice.”