By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 19/01/19 1:12am
Phil Mickelson needed a big finish to retain his lead after two rounds of the Desert Classic as he added a 68 to his sensational, opening 60.
Mickelson led by three overnight after equalling the best round of his career on day one, and he made a positive start to his second round before a mid-round mistake opened the door for the chasing pack.
But he birdied four of his last five holes to close on 16 under which left him two clear of Curtis Luck, while defending champion Jon Rahm is just four off the pace after carding a pair of 66s.
Mickelson began at the 10th on the Nicklaus Tournament course, and he soon got into his stride with birdies at the 11th and 12th before his putting began to falter, although it was a mid-iron to blame for a double-bogey six at 18 when he pulled his second shot into water on the left.
The frustration elevated when the 48-year-old walked off the par-five fourth with only a par on his scorecard, but an eight-foot putt for birdie at the next changed his fortunes as he also got further putts to drop on the next two greens.
Mickelson signed off with his sixth birdie of the round at the ninth to claim the early clubhouse lead, and he insisted he will stick with his aggressive tactics when he takes on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“I’m starting to drive the ball a lot longer and straighter than I have in a while and so that sets up nicely for that course,” he said. “I feel like I can play aggressively with the way I’m hitting it off the tee.
“It was a good way to finish the round today. I struggled that front nine doing not too much and then I doubled that 18th hole. But I ended up birdieing four of the last five and turned it around and really I struck the ball every bit as well, I just didn’t putt anywhere close to as well as I did yesterday.
“On 18 it really wasn’t as hard a shot as I made it look. I had a decent lie after dropping off the cart path, but I had the ball a little bit below my feet and a slight uphill lie, which the tendency on those shots is to pull it and I just didn’t adjust for that very well and I pulled it right in the water.
“But that’s been the only hole I played over par this week so I can’t complain too much. I finished strong, so I turned a round that was not very good into a respectable round.”
Mickelson’s lead came under threat from Luck late in the day when the young Australian made his seventh birdie of the day at the fifth – his 14th – before he came up short with his tee shot to the eighth and found the water hazard.
The resulting bogey dropped him back to 13 under, but he responded with another birdie at the ninth to return a 66, while Adam Hadwin raced into contention with four consecutive birdies on his second nine at La Quinta, where he carded a 59 en route to a runner-up finish two years ago.
The Canadian’s 66 earned him a share of third with veteran Steve Marino, whose bogey-free 65 included his first career hole-in-one when he holed a perfect eight-iron at the 168-yard seventh.
Rahm is the standout name in the group on 12 under as the Spaniard made seven birdies against just one bogey in his 66 at the Nicklaus Tournament layout, while Justin Rose kept a bogey off his card on the same course as the world No 1 completed back-to-back 68s to reach eight under par.
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