Mickelson Clings To 1-Shot Lead
Saturday, February 17th 2007, 5:56 pm
News On 6
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Phil Mickelson looked unbeatable until a 30-inch putt spun around the rim of the cup, giving him the first of three bogeys on the back nine that cost him a cushion, but ultimately not the lead, Saturday in the Nissan Open.
Mickelson got up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 17th and shot 2-under 69 in the steamy sunshine at Riviera, giving him a one-shot lead over Padraig Harrington (70) as he tries to win for the second straight week.
"I was tied for the lead yesterday. I've got a one-shot lead today. So, it's getting better," said Mickelson, who was at 13-under 200. "It wasn't the lead I wanted, but it's getting better."
Mickelson will be in the final group with Harrington and Rich Beem, who delivered the theatrics by making a hole-in-one on the 14th hole that sent him leaping atop the red sports car that he won for his ace. More than getting a new car, Beem suddenly has a chance at his first trophy since the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
Beem shot the best round of the day, a 6-under 65, and was only two shots behind.
"I was thinking I won a car, and it was going to cost me an awful lot in the bar later on," Beem said of his ace, a 7-iron from 179 yards that took a high hop and plunged into the cup. "I wasn't thinking about picking up two shots on the field or anything."
Former Nissan Open champion Robert Allenby (68) and Charles Howell III (69) were another shot behind, setting up a typical Sunday off Sunset Boulevard when several players have a chance.
"I'm happy to be three adrift," Allenby said. "Three or four shots is not much around this place."
That's due to Mickelson, who one minute looked as though he might run away from the field, and in a span of five holes came charging right back with a couple of missed putts and one wild swing on the par-3 16th.
"Myself and Phil basically brought a lot of people back into the tournament," Harrington said. "Whoever plays the best tomorrow will probably win the tournament. But it's a half-dozen guys instead of two."
Indeed, a half-dozen players were right behind them, which includes Ernie Els (67), Jim Furyk (67) and Sergio Garcia (69) only four shots behind at 9-under 204. Mickelson thought as many as 15 players still had a chance.
"It was a beautiful day. There were a lot of low rounds," he said. "If me and Padraig had shot one, we'd probably have pulled away."
Beem wasn't the biggest surprise, but his ace sure was.
The crowd surrounding the 14th green roared when the ball slammed into the cup, and Beem raised both arms in the air. He ran behind the tee, climbed onto the roof and hugged the top of the car as if he was riding a killer whale.
It was a reaction he borrowed from Peter Jacobsen, when he made an ace on the 14th at Riviera in 1994.
"I wish I could take full credit for making a fool of myself," Beem said. "I tell you what, though, the top of that car was pretty warm. And the back of that car is scratched up from my shoes."
Until then, Riviera and its amazing warmth felt like a good place to take a nap.
Mickelson, coming off a five-shot victory at Pebble Beach, opened with an up-and-down for birdie, followed that with an approach he carved around the trees into 5 feet for birdie on No. 2 and never showed any sign of letting anyone catch him.
With two more birdies to start the back nine, he had stretched his lead to three shots, and another victory looked inevitable. Mickelson is most pleased with his driving, but not to be overlooked is his putting, especially those inside 6 feet â€“ often for par -- on poa annua greens that get bumpy in the afternoon.
And that's what brought him back to the field.
Mickelson ran a birdie putt from the fringe on No. 12 some 30 inches by the cup, then pulled it just enough for the par putt to catch the right slip and spin out for only his second bogey of the tournament. On the next hole, having come up short of the green, he pitched aggressively 6 feet by and knew he missed this putt as soon as it left the blade.
Just like that, the lead was down to one shot. And three holes later, Lefty was lucky to have a share of the lead. He pulled his tee shot so badly on the par-3 16th that it bounced 30 yards right of the green, and he chipped 40 feet long for his third bogey in five holes. Harrington had an 8-foot birdie for the lead, but it stayed left of the hole.
Mickelson got his nose back in front on the par-5 17th when he and Harrington both came up short of the green. Mickelson chipped to 3 feet for birdie, while Harrington missed a tricky birdie putt from 5 feet.
"I'm still well in contention," Harrington said. "But the goal on Saturday is to take people out. Unfortunately, we didn't do that today."