Mickelson, fresh off his sixth career top-3 major finish without a victory, shot 7-under 64 Friday to finish two days in Hilton Head, SC at 13-under-par. His 129 total ties the 36-hole tournament record, set by Jack Nicklaus in 1975, and tied by Ian Baker-Finch (1991) and David Edwards (1994).
'I don't know why the scores are as low as they have been,' said Mickelson, whose 64 was his career best at this event. 'I think I'm going to have to keep the same pattern to maintain the lead.'
A trio of major champions, however, is hot on his trail. 1997 British Open winner Justin Leonard shot 64 to move to 11-under-par. Hes tied with 97 PGA champion Davis Love III, who followed his opening 62 with a more subdued 69.
I hung in there all day ' wasnt really going my way, Love said. Yesterday, I seemed to have birdie putts on every hole. Today, it was, like, every other hole. I didnt have any short birdie putts.
Two-time U.S. Open victor Lee Janzen is three back following a 67.
This is Mickelsons seventh start at Harbour Town; though, his first since 1999. In 98, he trailed Love by two shots entering the final round. Lefty carded a Sunday 73, while Love shot 65 to win his fourth tartan jacket with ease.
Friday proved to be a far better experience. Mickelson made seven birdies, and offset a pair of bogeys with an eagle at the par-5 second. The worlds No. 2 ranked player bogeyed his first hole of the day, the par-4 10th, but responded with three birdies by the turn.
Following another birdie at the first, Mickelson laced a 4-iron from 211 yards to within 10 feet of the cup on the par-5 second. He then converted the putt to tie Leonard, who was already in the clubhouse, for the lead at 11-under.
The 20-time tour winner bogeyed the third to fall one back, only to birdie five, six and nine to grab a two-shot cushion entering the weekend.
'This is the kind of golf course where you need to be creative,' Mickelson said. 'I love it. I love to be creative.'
While Leonard was able to shoot his best score, by two shots, at this event, Love struggled to get it under par.
The four-time tournament winner traded two birdies for two bogeys over his first seven holes. He parred Nos. 8-16. At the par-3 17th, Love chipped in for birdie from the second cut of fringe. He concluded his day with a 20-foot birdie putt at 18.
I was patient enough to let something happen in the end, rather than forcing it, Love said.
Cameron Beckman and Billy Mayfair are tied for fifth place, four back. Beckman tied the tournament record by shooting a front-nine 29 en route to his career low round on tour, an 8-under 63. Mayfair, who lost to Jose Coceres in a playoff last year, shot 68.
The cutline fell at even-par 142, with 75 players qualifying for the final two rounds. Coceres will be around for the weekend. The Argentine shot 69-72 for a 1-under total.
Full-field scores from the WorldCom Classic