AUGUSTA, Ga. — When three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson walked off the 18th green after the second round at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday, he was 4 under after 36 holes and beating defending champion Scottie Scheffler and world No. 2 golfer Rory McIlroy.
It wasn’t exactly what anyone expected coming into the week from the 52-year-old Mickelson, who hadn’t played well in his first season with LIV Golf and hadn’t been much better this year.
But Mickelson said he felt he was close to playing really good golf and returning to the Masters, a tournament he skipped last year but loves the most, has helped him find his form.
“I’m close to going on a tear,” Mickelson said. “Even though the scores haven’t shown it, like I’m hitting so many good shots, pretty soon I’m going to have a really low one. When that happens and it clicks, then the game feels easy again. Then I stop putting pressure on myself, and the scores just start to fall into place.”
Mickelson said he felt like he hit the ball better in Thursday’s opening round when he shot 1-under 71 than he did Friday when he was 3 under. Mickelson hit 9 of 18 greens (he hit 12 on Thursday) and 11 of 14 fairways for the second straight round.
“I actually did not hit it anywhere near as well as I did yesterday,” Mickelson said. “But I scored well. I got it up and down, made a lot of good putts. With one exception of a poor chip on 6, I had a lot of good saves around the green, bunker shots, good 6-footers, and scored. That’s what I needed to do yesterday, and I could have gone really low.”
The six-time major champion started the second round by making a 27-foot birdie putt on the first hole. He carded four straight pars from there before running into trouble on the par-3 sixth, which gave many players problems on Friday.
Mickelson’s tee shot on No. 6 hit the green but spun back and rolled off. His chip shot was too soft and his ball failed to get over the false front. It settled about 62 feet below the hole. Then Mickelson’s putt wasn’t hard enough and nearly rolled back to his feet. He two-putted for a double bogey.
“My playing partner made 2,” Mickelson said. “It wasn’t set up any more difficult than it has been. I hit a poor chip. Like I don’t mind being short there. I don’t mind being where I’m at. It’s a pretty easy bump shot up the green, and I caught it heavy. I don’t think it was set up any more difficult. We just didn’t play it well.”
Mickelson didn’t make another bogey and added four more birdies, dropping a 16-footer on No. 8, 7-footers on Nos. 12 and 13 and a 5-footer on No. 18.
“The 8-iron on 18 was probably the best swing of the day, and making birdie to that pin is always a good thing because that’s a tough pin to make 3 on,” Mickelson said.
It was Mickelson’s 59th career round under par in the Masters, breaking a tie with Tom Watson for second all time in tournament history; Jack Nicklaus had 71 such rounds. It was also Mickelson’s 34th round in the 60s at the Masters, which is also second to Nicklaus (39).
After everything Mickelson has been through the past 14 months — from his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights abuses being published, to being suspended by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and going into self-exile — Mickelson seems to have found solace at Augusta National.
“I would use the word more spiritual because, if you love golf, when you come here, it’s more of a spiritual experience, where you feel this appreciation for this great game and the gratitude that you have,” Mickelson said. “Then this tournament, this course gives something for everybody to aspire to. If you’re a kid and you’re dreaming of playing in the Masters and you want to win it, it gives you something to aspire to. It did for me.”