PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — With each birdie, Phil Mickelson put some life into an overcast day at Pebble Beach and gave himself another chance to finally take something more than silver home from a U.S. Open.
It wasn't enough to catch Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who set the early pace Friday with a 3-under 68 to take a two-shot lead into the weekend. All that mattered to Mickelson, however, was getting back to even par.
He did one better.
With five birdies in a seven-hole stretch early in his round, Mickelson shot a tournament-best 66 and joined a shrinking group of five players who have beaten par over two days at Pebble Beach.
McDowell was at 3-under 139, and he made even more friends with a bogey on the final hole. Because of the 10-shot cut rule, that assured 60-year-old Tom Watson two more rounds in what likely will be his final U.S. Open.
Mickelson was joined at 1-under 141 by two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els (68), 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa (71) and Dustin Johnson (70), who has won the last two times in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and looks right at home in much firmer conditions.
The names weren't important to Mickelson. Only the numbers.
“I'm in a good spot,” said Mickelson, whose five runner-up finishes is a U.S. Open record. “I don't look at the leaderboard. I don't look at other players. I look at par. If you can stay around par, you're going to be in the tournament Sunday. That was kind of the goal.”
The Masters champion opened with a 75 Thursday after missing a half-dozen birdie putts inside 12 feet. On Friday, he hardly missed anything.
It began with an approach into about 4 feet on the tough par-4 second hole, and Mickelson was relentless on the front nine until hitting into the cavenous bunker short of the ninth green and making his only bogey.
By then, he was back in the game.
Tiger Woods believes he's still in the mix, too, although a pedestrian round of 1-over 72 left him seven shots behind. Woods has never won a major when trailing by more than six shots going into the weekend.
Asked if he liked his positions, Woods replied, “Absolutely.”
“I'm right there in the championship,” Woods said. “I just need to make a few more birdies, a few more putts on the weekend, and I'll be right there.”
It starts with McDowell, a 30-year-old with five European Tour victories and a pair of 18-hole leads in the majors.