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Phil Mickelson one stroke behind Sung Kang, Hiroshi Iwata at Pebble Beach

By Art Spander, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 13, 2016 at 12:40 AM
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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- For a tournament with decades of history, winners such as Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, it is only proper that someone would step out of the past and climb the leaderboard of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

That would be 45-year-old Phil Mickelson who after two rounds was a shot out of the lead Friday, behind Sung Kang and Hiroshi Iwata and tied with first-day leader Chez Reavie and Freddie Jacobson,

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On another day when the temperature on the Monterey Peninsula was in the high 60s, or the same as the best scores, Mickelson shot a 6-under-par 65 at Monterey Peninsula, easiest of the three courses in the rotation. And was five shots worse than Kang, who had a course-record 60 there Friday to jump into a tie for the lead.

"I didn't even know what I shot," said Kang, 28. "I thought I shot 61."

But, playing the back nine first, it was a 29-31 -- 60, from nine birdies and an eagle for a round of 11 under par, on the 6,867-yard course.

So 36 holes into this event, which features amateurs such as Aaron Rodgers, Jim Harbaugh and Justin Timberlake along with pros such as Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, it's Kang and Iwata tied at 11-under par, while Mickelson, Reavie and Jacobson are at 10-under. Spieth, after a 69 at Monterey, is at a cumulative 3-under 140.

The first three days golfers play one round each at Monterey Peninsula, par 71, Pebble and Spyglass, which play to a par of 72. Then Sunday those who make the 54-hole cut play only at Pebble.

Mickelson has a good history on the Monterey Peninsula, winning the AT&T four times, 1998, 2005, 2007 and 2012, when head-to-head he beat Tiger Woods. Mickelson won the British Open in July 2013 at Muirfield and was third at the recent Career Builder, the former Hope tournament, at Palm Desert

Asked why he did so well over the years at the AT&T, Mickelson said, "I think first of all the setting is spectacular. But the greens being poa annua are what I grew up on, so it's a grass I feel comfortable on. Not just putting, but chipping on, hitting full shots into."

That's the grass of coastal California courses. Mickelson is from San Diego.

"It can be challenging for guys if they're not used to it," Mickelson said of poa annua.

Golf anywhere seemed challenging for Kang until Friday. He missed the cuts of the previous three tournaments and shot only an even-par 72 at Pebble on Thursday. Then Friday, he was brilliant.

"The last three weeks," said Kang, "I wasn't really hitting it very good. After that I found my game a little bit, but I was putting too much pressure on myself. I was trying too hard. So now, I'm just going - yeah, I don't have any pressure even if I miss a shot or hit it bad. My family is still going to love me. Nobody's going to hate me."

Kang's bag is being carried by Fluff Cowan, who caddied for Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, who is not here because of an injury. Kang's amateur partner is comedian Ray Romano, and Kang said he didn't know of Romano while in Korea but definitely knows him now.

"Ray asked me after nine holes, because I was 6-under par, 'What's your career low?' I shot 61 a couple times. Then after we finished he said, 'Hey, you beat your career round.'"

Kang said Romano was wrong, but he was dead right.

Spieth said Thursday at Spyglass he played well on the tough holes and poorly on the easy ones. Friday, he was not at all dismayed with the 2-under at Monterey, even poking fun at himself.

"Am I the pre-Phil interview," he joked, knowing Mickelson's score.

"I'm hitting it great now," said Spieth, winner of the Hyundai event in Maui. "I drove the ball spectacular . . . I just couldn't get it in the hole. I've struggled here on the Monterrey Peninsula the past few years. The hardest greens to putt in my opinion because they're the softest."

Neither Kang nor Mickelson had a problem making putts. That stands to reason when one shoots 60 and the other 65.

"My game is pretty much there," said Mickelson, "The last piece is mental, performing under pressure."

It always is in any sport.

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