0

Mickelson breaks 36-hole mark for big BellSouth lead

DULUTH - The task for the field at the BellSouth Classic is simple, yet painfully difficult.

Catch the world's No. 4 golfer, Phil Mickelson, at one of his favorite courses, the TPC at Sugarloaf. All it takes is overcoming the six-shot lead - the largest two-day margin in tournament history - that Lefty built after the first two rounds.

Sounds like the other 78 guys who made the cut are playing for second.

A day after shooting a course record-tying 63, Mickelson fired a 7-under-par 65 in Friday's second round to run away from his competitors in a tournament he's already won twice, including last year. The closest to the leader's two-day 16-under score is J.J. Henry at 10 under, courtesy of his own second-round 65.

"It was a fun round," said Mickelson, who was done dicing up Sugarloaf by lunchtime after his morning round. "I enjoyed coming out this morning when the greens were fresh and making a couple of putts early. It was fun to keep the ball in play and feel like I was trying to make birdie every hole rather than fighting for par."

Mickelson's two-day score of 128 set a BellSouth record for lowest 36-hole score, lower than the 130 shot in 1999 by Rory Sabbatini and the 129 posted by Larry Nelson in 1988 when the event was held at the easier Atlanta Country Club.

David Duval's 72-hole record of 18-under 270, also in 1999, is in great jeopardy, as is the all-time BellSouth low of 265, a mark set at Atlanta Country Club twice.

Although he's on pace to set the all-time PGA Tour mark for most shots under par in a tournament - 31-under-par by Ernie Els at the 2003 Mercedes Championship - Mickelson shrugged off that question in Friday's post-round interview session.

"I think that the way the course is continually getting more difficult, I think (the all-time record's) unrealistic," said Mickelson, whose 36-hole score also was a career low. "Certainly hitting, keeping the ball in play and trying to make some birdies, making birdies on the par 5s and stuff, is realistic. What you're talking about is not (realistic) in my mind."

Mickelson started fast in the second round with birdies on his first two holes, No. 10 and No. 11, rolling in 13- and 12-foot putts on those holes.

He also made short birdie putts on the 13th and 17th holes to post a 32.

He closed with a 33 on the front nine, with birdies at Nos. 1, 5 and 6. He hit his approach on the par-4, fifth hole to seven inches and also tapped in for birdie on the par-5 sixth.

Through two days, Mickelson has hit 35 of 36 greens in regulation, including 18 of 18 on Friday.

Henry and third-place golfer Jose Maria Olazabal both played as well as Mickelson on Friday. Henry, a Connecticut native who turns 31 on Sunday, matched Lefty's 65 while Olazabal, last year's BellSouth runner-up, had the round of the day with an 8-under 64. The Spaniard had eight birdies, four each on the front and the back, in his bogey-free round to shoot 32 on each side. Henry had seven birdies and no bogeys to stay one stroke ahead of Olazabal at 134. Olazabal's round included 11 one-putts. Australian Gavin Coles, a stroke behind Mickelson after shooting 64 in the first round, shot even-par 72 in the second round and is alone in fourth at 136. He fell to as far as 5 under on Friday before rallying to get back to 8 under, his total at the start of the day.

Clemson grads Charles Warren and Jonathan Byrd are tied with Shane Bertsch in fifth place at 137.

But the story of the tournament continued to be Mickelson, the BellSouth's all-time leading money winner looking to add to that total.

"I think right now what I want to do is hopefully continue to play well this weekend and take that momentum over to Augusta next week," Mickelson said.