Travelers Championship: Phil Mickelson grabs one-shot lead

Since winning at Pebble Beach early last year for his 44th PGA Tour title, Mickelson has mostly struggled, with far more missed cuts than good finishes.

Phil Mickelson of the United States putts on the 17th green during the second round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Phil Mickelson figures age might be an asset. Playing his first tournament since turning 50 this month, the five-time major champion shot a 7-under 63 on Friday in the Travelers Championship to take a one-stroke lead into the weekend.

Mickelson said said it was perhaps the wisdom that comes with his age that made him stay within himself instead of going toe-to-toe with his long-hitting playing partners, top-ranked Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau.

"There’s some holes I can open it up and try to hit driver, but really I just want to get it in play on a lot of holes and let my wedges take over, and I’ve hit a lot of good wedge shots this week,” said Mickelson, the 2001 and 2002 tournament winner.

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Two more players withdrew because of the coronavirus on Friday - Denny McCarthy for a positive test, and Bud Cauley, who tested negative, but decided to pull out after playing alongside McCarthy on Thursday. There have been seven COVID-19-related withdrawals.

Mickelson was at 13-under 127.

First-round leader Mackenzie Hughes followed an opening 60 with a 68 to drop into a second-place tie with 23-year-old Will Gordon, who led most of the day after shooting an early 62.

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Since winning at Pebble Beach early last year for his 44th PGA Tour title, Mickelson has mostly struggled, with far more missed cuts than good finishes.

On Friday at tree-lined TPC River Highlands, Mickelson made a bogey on his second hole before moving up the leaderboard. He made the first of his eight birdies from a green-side bunker on No. 5 and shot 30 on the back nine.

While Mickelson is making his 624th PGA Tour start, Gordon is in his eighth tour event on a sponsor’s exemption.

The former Vanderbilt star is carrying on a long tradition of young players who received a break at TPC River Highlands. Since 1996, 77 of the tournament’s 98 unrestricted sponsor invitations have gone to players with fewer than 15 starts on the tour and those players have gone on to combine for 90 victories.

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"I was supposed to play in three events that got canceled over COVID, so for those guys to take a chance on me and believe in me means the world,” he said.

McIlroy followed his first-round 63 with a 68. He was tied for fourth, four strokes off the lead and happy to be in contention.

"I know what it feels like to go low out here, so I’ll need a couple of good ones over the weekend,” he said. “But the game feels in decent shape, and obviously [I want to]get out early tomorrow and try to get back in the mix.

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DeChambeau, the third member of the marquee trio, had the most entertaining round of the three. He was 8 under after a 67 that included the strangest bogey of the day.

But after pitching over the green, then chipping back well short of the hole, he missed a 7-foot putt.

"I tried to hit a 35-yard shot and it came out 50 yards, and I’m like, `What is going on?’” he said. There’s some things I’ve still got to work out and some stuff I clearly don’t understand yet with the wedging.”

There is rain in the forecast for Saturday, with the players grouped in threesomes and started on the first and 10th tees.