Phil Mickelson is having fun again.
More than two years after his last victory, the 45-year-old left-hander is in the mix heading into the weekend at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Mickelson followed up his opening 68 at La Quinta Country Club with a 7-under 65 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West. It was his lowest score on the PGA Tour since the final round of last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic.
On Thursday, he holed out for eagle and chipped in for birdie on the front nine, but then cooled off with a 1-over-par back nine. Friday, the five-time major champion chipped in again and was solid for the majority of his round, carding eight birdies against one bogey.
“I had a good round where I was just patient,” Mickelson said. “I put a lot of shots in play and then gave myself a number of chances on the greens and had a number of putts go and some that didn’t. But I had a lot that did go. It was just a good, solid round.”
For the second straight day, Mickelson hit nine of 14 fairways, but he needed only 27 putts and hit four more greens (16) than he did on Thursday. Lefty is also averaging more than 300 yards off the tee (306 on Thursday and 312 on Friday).
All these good scores and improved stats come as Mickelson begins the year with a new coach, Andrew Getson, after several successful years with Butch Harmon. They are focused on getting Mickelson’s swing back on plane, but Lefty admitted he’s still not where he wants to be just yet.
“I’m probably a week away, if I’m being honest,” Mickelson said. “But I’ve also won with a lot less game than I have right now. I still expect to get into contention and have a good weekend, but a lot of the iron shots are 12-15 feet … off. And I know when I get it right I’ll have a lot more tap-in birdies throughout the round. When I’m playing well, I usually have three to four tap-ins, and then if I can make a few 10-, 12-, 15-footers I can shoot in the mid to low 60s, but I haven’t been giving myself those tap-ins yet.”
If Mickelson really is “a week away” from fine-tuning his swing changes, his timing couldn’t be better. He’s scheduled to play the next three weeks (Torrey Pines, Phoenix and Pebble Beach), and no doubt wants to get everything in order before driving down Magnolia Lane, where he tied for second last year behind Jordan Spieth.
But first Mickelson and his new swing have a big test this weekend. He moves to the PGA West TPC Stadium Course for the final two rounds, and it’s no surprise Pete Dye’s 1986 design has played two strokes tougher than La Quinta and the Nicklaus course.