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Fast finish lifts Mickelson to second-round 68 at Desert Classic

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Phil Mickelson has opened the Desert Classic with the second-lowest 36-hole score of his career, and yet he still feels uncomfortable.  

Such is the nature of this annual shootout at PGA West.

After torching La Quinta with a 12-under 60 – his lowest score in relation to par in his three-decade-long career on Tour – Mickelson played a more familiar brand of golf Friday. On the more difficult Nicklaus Tournament Course, he birdied four of his last five holes to salvage a 4-under 68 and push his halfway total to 16-under 128.

“This has been a fun, if not surprising start for me,” he said afterward. “It’s fun to get in the mix.”

Full-field scores from the Desert Classic

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Mickelson typically eases into the new year, but he’s thrust himself into the spotlight early in 2019.

His opening 16-under total is his second-best 36-hole score in relation to par of his career, behind only the 17-under start at the 2013 Phoenix Open. That’s the last time he opened an event with a 60. He went on to win.

Much like that desert tournament, Mickelson will have to continue to pour it on over the weekend on PGA West’s more difficult Stadium Course. The winning score at the Desert Classic has been at least 20 under par every year since 2012, when the tournament moved from 90 to 72 holes.  

Defending champion Jon Rahm is among the large group of players only a few shots behind heading into the weekend.

“You just have to keep firing on all cylinders and going after birdies,” Mickelson said. “In the past I’ve been able to do that. Usually when you play that well the first two rounds, you’re hitting the ball where you want and making putts. So I just need to keep doing that.”

Mickelson hit the same number of greens (14) in the second round, but his putter wasn’t nearly as hot. He took 29 putts and made a big mistake on the par-4 18th – his ninth of the day – when he pulled his approach into the water and took a double bogey.

Just even par for the day as he played his inward nine, Mickelson rolled in a 8-footer for birdie on the fifth hole. It proved to be just the spark he needed to finish strong, with four birdies late.

“I turned a round that was not very good into a respectable round,” he said.