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Back-nine 29 puts Mickelson just two off Saudi International lead

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Frustrated by his inability to score this year, Phil Mickelson focused and found a spark on the back nine at the Saudi International.

Mickelson carded nine birdies Thursday during a 4-under 66 that put him just two shots off the early lead in Saudi Arabia.

Coming off back-to-back missed cuts in the States, Mickelson headed overseas looking to score as well as he believed he was striking it. That didn’t appear to be the case once again as Mickelson went out in 2 over, but in windy conditions he narrowed his focus and began hitting quality shots.

He came home in 6-under 29 – including a near hole-in-one on the 11th hole – to position himself just two shots back of Graeme McDowell and Gavin Green.

“I started to see what I wanted the ball to do, as opposed to what I didn’t want it to do. I think that’s the best way to say it,” Mickelson told reporters afterward. “I started seeing the ball go in the hole. I started seeing the shots fly where I wanted. I just didn’t have a good picture of what I wanted (on the front nine), and then the back nine I started to see it a lot better.”

Full-field scores from the Saudi International

Mickelson said that during missed cuts in Palm Springs and San Diego he felt great physically, but he wasn’t mentally sharp. “I haven’t been visualizing and I haven’t been seeing the shots clear,” he said. “It was certainly evident early in the round where I made a couple of shots that weren’t that hard more difficult. ...

“I feel like my game is a lot sharper than I’ve been scoring, so it was nice having that back nine.”

Now Mickelson is eager to get back out on the course, as a morning start time – with less wind – should present more scoring opportunities. He’s looking for his first top-15 finish in nearly a year, since his victory last February at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.