Phil Mickelson takes Travelers Championship lead


CROMWELL, Conn. — At the start of the week, the field at the 2020 Travelers Championship was the strongest in the tournament’s history. The seven highest-ranked players on the Official World Golf Ranking were here.

Even after Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson withdrew Wednesday, stars like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau were on hand. Undoubtedly, one of them would be the leader.

Throughout most of Friday, however, it appeared the law firm-sounding names of Gordan and Hughes would be the overnight leaders. Then, a Hall of Famer decided to play some of his best golf at this venue in 18 years.

Phil Mickelson, who turned 50 on June 16 and who won this event in 2001 and 2002, shot 63 in the second round of his seventh Travelers Championship. He is now 13 under (127) and takes a one-shot lead over Will Gordon, who shot 62 in the morning wave, and Mackenzie Hughes, who are both 12 under heading into round three.

Mickelson will also have a three-shot lead over six players at the start of Saturday’s play, including McIlroy and Xander Schauffele – who each shot 68 – Brendan Steele and Marc Leishman.

With storms expected in the area Saturday afternoon, tee times have been moved forward. Golfers will be playing in threesomes and teeing off on both the first and 10th tees to avoid bad weather.

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Friday’s 7-under 63 is the lowest score Mickelson has ever shot at TPC River Highlands, besting yesterday’s 64 and a 64 he shot on Sunday back in 2002.

“It really was a fun day,” Mickelson said afterward. “I’m having so much fun these first two days.”

Who couldn’t have fun making 14 birdies in 36 holes?

“The back nine is an awesome nine holes of golf because it has such great risk/reward, and birdie and eagle opportunities, but also some high numbers if you play it poorly,” Mickelson said. “I’ve always enjoyed this back nine, and knew that if I continued to hit the ball into the middle of the fairway, I was going to hit my wedges close and I make some birdies.”

Wearing sunglasses that made him look like someone who would hand you a speeding ticket, Mickelson holed a 39-foot bunker shot on the fifth hole to make up for his first and only bogey of the tournament, which was made on the second after his approach from 101 yards went into the right rough.

Lefty then stuffed an approach shot to four feet on the seventh hole and made a 15-footer for birdie on Nos. 9 and 10. He then made three birdies in a row on holes 13, 14 and 15, before using the rules to get out of a jam on 17.

After his tee shot hit the cart path that runs along the fairway’s left side, it came to rest in an area that was deemed ground under repair. With a rules official watching and explaining his options, Mickelson decided to take relief from the path, not from the ground under repair, and then dropped his ball twice on the right side of the cart path. Each dropped ball rolled onto the pavement, so he was then allowed to place the ball where his drop made contact with the grass, giving him a perfect lie. Mickelson’s 9-iron from 144 yards out found the green and he two-putted, averting what could have been a late-round disaster.

On the last hole, his wedge shot from 118 yards danced and spun around the hole like a ballerina center stage at the Bolshoi. The tap-in birdie completed his day.

“Playing my game, and the way the course set up for me was a challenge when you’re playing with guys that hit it like (McIlroy and DeChambeau), it allowed me to play some good golf,” he said.

Gordon, who opened with 66 on Thursday, awoke Friday to sunny skies and ideal conditions that helped him shoot 8 under.

“I knew that it was going to be gettable this morning,” said the 23-year-old from Davidson, N.C. “(I) just tried to come into today with a .really positive mindset, an aggressive mindset, and I was able to do that and execute early.”

Gordon does not have PGA Tour status and lacks Korn Ferry status as well. He is in the field after receiving a sponsor’s exemption.

“I was in Korn Ferry finals before they got pushed back a year (due to the COVID-19 pandemic),” he said. “The uncertainty of having 18 months, and being kind of at the mercy, of the Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions, makes you really thankful for the opportunities you do have.”

Mackenzie Hughes, the overnight leader who shot 60 on Thursday, posted 68 on Friday. That was not surprising when you consider that since 2010, the average score by a player who shot 60 or lower the previous day in a PGA Tour is 68.44.

Playing alongside Mickelson, McIlroy shot 68 to stay in contention.

“I feel like I could have went a little lower, but still right there going into the weekend,” he said. “I know what it feels like to go low out here, so I’ll need a couple of good ones over the weekend.”

Among the notable players who failed to make the cut at 136 are three-time winner Bubba Watson (137), Tony Finau (137), Gary Woodland (138), Justin Rose (140) and Justin Thomas (142).



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