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Mickelson in ‘Good Spot’ Entering U.S. Open Weekend

Phil Mickelson is tied for second place midway through golf’s U.S. Open, two strokes behind leader Graeme McDowell entering the weekend. Mickelson said he’s more concerned about where he stands relative to par.

“I’m in a good spot,” Mickelson said yesterday after firing a 5-under-par 66, the best round so far of the tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California. “I don’t look at the leaderboard, I don’t look at other players. I look at par.”

After failing to make a birdie during his first-round 75, Mickelson made a charge yesterday with five over the first eight holes. He took 25 putts over 18 holes -- tied for the fewest in the second round -- and is 1-under par overall at the season’s second major championship.

The early highlight of today’s third round was a hole-in-one by Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee on the 181-yard, par-3 fifth hole. The U.S. Golf Association said it was the 41st hole-in-one in U.S. Open history and the first since Peter Hedblom had one in the third round in 2006 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.

Northern Ireland’s McDowell has the lead at 3-under par, following up his opening-round 71 with a 68 yesterday. McDowell, who won the Wales Open two weeks ago for his fifth European Tour title, has improved in each of his four U.S. Open appearances and tied for 18th in 2009 at 4-over par.

Mickelson, who is No. 2 in the Official World Rankings behind Tiger Woods, has been runner-up at the U.S. Open five times, including a tie for second last year at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in New York.

“This is the only tournament really in professional golf that brings out Bobby Jones’s old saying of, ‘playing against Old Man Par,’” Mickelson said. “If you just can stay around par you’re going to be in the tournament on Sunday, and that’s kind of the goal.”

Woods Trails by 7

Woods, a three-time U.S. Open champion, is seven strokes off the lead entering the third round, tied for 25th place at 4-over par after rounds of 74 and 72.

Woods had three birdies and four bogeys yesterday after failing to make a birdie during the opening round.

“As we know, the U.S. Open is only going to get tougher as the weekend goes,” Woods said. “I’m going to have to make a few more birdies.”

When he won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Woods was 8-under par after 36 holes and had a six-shot lead.

Of the 83 players who made the cut this year by finishing within 10 shots of the lead, only five are below par.

Tied with Mickelson at 1-under are two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els of South Africa, Dustin Johnson of the U.S. and 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan. Els had five birdies yesterday to match McDowell with a second-round 68.

“It’s been a long time since I won one of these,” said the 40-year-old Els, who won U.S. Opens in 1994 and 1997. “We’ve got a long way to go, but I needed a round like today to get me back in the tournament.”

Even Par

Britain’s Paul Casey is even par, along with Germany’s Alex Cejka, Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge and Jerry Kelly of the U.S. South Korea’s K.J. Choi, Britain’s Ian Poulter and Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen are 1 over.

Sixty-year-old Tom Watson, who won the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, made the cut at 7-over par. Watson was among those who qualified for the weekend thanks to a bogey by McDowell yesterday on the 18th hole that left him 3-under par.

Twenty-five players are 7 over, including two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson, Mike Weir, Stewart Cink and Stuart Appleby.

Among those who didn’t qualify for weekend play were 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia and PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang of South Korea, who struggled to a second-round 83 that included five bogeys, a double-bogey and two triple-bogeys over the final nine holes.

Mickelson played in a group with Yang yesterday and was putting so well he said he can’t wait to get back on the course. The three-time Masters champion doesn’t tee off until 3:30 p.m. local time today and said he’ll spend the early part of the day with his family, who arrived in Monterey, California, last night.

“We’ll probably do what we did at Augusta,” said Mickelson, who in April won his third Masters title at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. “Maybe go to breakfast and play a little chess with the kids.”

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