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Phil Mickelson up 2 at Pebble Beach after 66

By Art Spander, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 14, 2016 at 12:35 AM

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. --- Phil Mickelson always was the most cooperative man on the PGA Tour, amiable, informative.

When Mickelson was called "Lefty," it wasn't only because of the manner he swung a golf club but a term of endearment, an appreciation of his style, easy going, helpful a nicknamed you'd give your best friend.

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But there's been a different Mickelson the last couple of years, perhaps because his game is not what he likes or others expect -- although when a man turns 45, as Phil did last June, it's hard to know what to expect.

And perhaps because he's been criticized in the media and linked to stories of a gambling operation.

Lefty at times acted more like Grouchy.

Mickelson on Saturday had no reason to be unfriendly or unhappy. He moved into a tournament third-round lead for the first time in two and a half years, shooting a score as brilliant as the blue-sky weather on the Monterey Peninsula, a bogey-free, 6-under par 66 at Pebble Beach.

That gave him a 16-under par total of 199 for 54 holes and a two-stroke margin over Hiroshi Iwata, who had a 3-under 69 at Spyglass Hill.

Another stroke back in a tie for third are Freddie Jacobson who shot a 68 at Monterey Peninsula and Sung Kang, who totaled 70 at Pebble. Kang shared the second-day lead with Iwata after shooting 60 at Monterey Peninsula.

Roberto Castro, with a 67 at Monterey, and Jonas Blixt, who had a 67 at Spyglass, share fifth, another stroke behind.

Jimmy Walker, who won the 2014 AT&T, had a nine-under 63 at Pebble, but at 206 for 54 holes is tied for 12th.

Jordan Spieth, No. 1 in the world rankings, shot a two-over 74 at Pebble, and at 214 made the cut on the number in a tie for 54th.

Mickelson chooses not to come to the media center after a round, maybe because even though he's won 42 times he hasn't had a victory since the 2013 British Open at Muirfield.

What he did Saturday was speak to a PGA Tour representative at the ninth green where Mickelson finished, who then brought the quotes to media unable to ask tough questions.

But Mickelson did make the ultimate confession, when he said: "It's been awhile since I've been in contention, and it would mean a lot to me to be able to play a good final round tomorrow."

Mickelson should feel comfortable at Pebble. He has won the tournament four times. His first event after turning pro was the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble. He has appreciated the area's natural beauty and the composure of the greens, poa annua, and the California coastal grass upon which he played starting as a kid in San Diego.

Even when the conversation is positive, Mickelson is hesitant these days, as if journalists are trying to get his deepest secrets.

When he was asked, in that off-the-ninth-green interview, if previous success here gave him confidence, Mickelson figuratively danced around the issue.

"I know that as I look back on those other victories here how special they were, how much it meant to me to play well here at Pebble, but I've got a lot of work to do," he said. "I've got to get my ball striking back to that level that I need for (Sunday's) round."

Mickelson indicated he scored better than he struck the ball, although through the years he's been one of the great scramblers, often coming out of trees or bunkers for birdies or pars.

Besides the essential quote about golf is" "It ain't how, but how many." For Mickelson the previous three days, it hasn't been many at all.

How badly can be playing if he's 16-under par after 54 holes-and in front?

"Í played the par-3s well," Lefty admitted. "I didn't think the golf course was playing that easy with the greens being firm and the wind picking up. I thought I had to fight for a lot of pars and was happy to make pars on a lot of holes."

Spieth was angry about shooting over par at Pebble, where in 2013 he played as a pro for the first time.

"To be 1-over through the first seven, that's where you need to take advantage," Spieth said of the opening stretch where the pros usually make birdies and on eagles.

"I just had a bad attitude that first nine. I just have come to this golf course thinking it's just kind of pitch and putt, because that's the way it played the last three or four rounds I played on it. But with conditions like today (wind) you needed to be patient. I'm looking for something on Sunday."

So is Phil Mickelson, and if he comes through maybe we'll be looking for him in the media headquarters.

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