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Mickelson improves, but still in jeopardy

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LA QUINTA, Calif. – Despite a few “squirrely shots” and “a lot of rusty mistakes,” Phil Mickelson showed signs of life Friday with a 5-under 67 at the Humana Challenge.

Yet even with the improved play, Lefty finds himself nine shots back heading into the weekend. Currently in a tie for 91st – the top 70 and ties make the 54-hole cut – he will play the Palmer Course at PGA West on Saturday.

Making his season debut this week, Mickelson closed with a 1-under 35 on the back nine Friday – the front nine on the Nicklaus Course – but felt encouraged by the swings he made on the par-5 eighth (three-putted for par) and the par-4 ninth, where he stuck his approach to 15 feet and left the putt a few rotations short.

“I left a few shots out there, but the last couple of holes were very encouraging to me,” Mickelson said afterward. “They were the first time that my rhythm kind of set in.”

On Thursday at La Quinta Country Club, generally considered the most difficult venue in the three-course rotation, he mixed three birdies, a double bogey and a bogey during an eventful round of 72. It was similar to what transpired here last year, when he shot an opening-round 74 en route to an eventual T-49 finish.

Mickelson is a two-time winner of this event, in 2002 and ’04.

“I had been playing very well coming in here, but I’ve been amped up, excited, and I’ve been making some very over-the-top, quick swings and haven’t been my best,” he said.