JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Phil Mickelson needed only three holes to go from lagging behind to seizing control with an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch that carried him to a 5-under 67 and a two-shot lead Saturday in the Constellation Furyk & Friends Invitational.
Making only his fourth PGA Tour Champions start — and second this year — Mickelson will be going after his third title on the 50-and-older circuit.
Miguel Angel Jimenez (65), Steve Flesch (66) and Matt Gogel (69) were two shots behind at Timuquana Country Club.
Flesch had run off three straight birdies when Mickelson took over.
First, he hit 7-iron to about 15 feet for eagle on the par-5 13th hole. Mickelson followed that with a 40-foot birdie putt across the green at the par-3 14th, and then he made birdie on the par-5 15th hole.
Mickelson made his lone bogey on the 16th hole, closed with two pars and finished the opening two rounds at 11-under 133.
“I felt like I was hitting some good shots on the front nine, but they weren’t quite going the right distance or just weren’t quite working out,” said Mickelson, who had only one birdie before making the turn.
“When I made that eagle putt, I went on a nice little tear,” he said. “I don’t know, I’m having a lot of fun. And I hit some good shots. With the exception of that one bad tee shot on 16 that led to bogey, I drove it pretty well, and that allowed me to play much more aggressively.”
Mickelson, who in May became the first player at age 50 to win a major at the PGA Championship, was among several top stars who played the tournament as a favor to Jim Furyk, the tournament host who has a pair of 69s and was five shots behind.
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, coming off a loss as Europe’s captain in the Ryder Cup, had a 75 and was at 5-over 149 in his PGA Tour Champions debut. He turned 50 at the end of August in the midst of Ryder Cup preparations.
U.S. captain Steve Stricker had a 67 and was five shots behind Mickelson.
Four-time major champion Ernie Els (67) and former PGA Champion David Toms (68) were among those three shots behind.
Six players were within three shots of the lead, though Mickelson loves the Donald Ross design and is able to attack on a course still soft from heavy rain Friday that caused delays.
“They’re playing some good golf, so I have to keep doing the same, and playing aggressive, driving the ball in play, hit some good iron shots and give myself some putts, and hopefully make some,” Mickelson said. “I feel like I have a really low one in me, and I want to go try to shoot that number.”