Phil Mickelson plays a shot on the ninth hole during the second round of the Phoenix Open on Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)
Scottsdale, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson made it to the weekend in the Phoenix Open. Another popular left-hander and a fellow former Arizona State player set the pace.
A week after withdrawing from Torrey Pines because of back pain, Mickelson shot a 4-under 67 in his afternoon round Friday at cool and breezy TPC Scottsdale. The defending champion was eight strokes behind leaders Bubba Watson and Matt Jones.
“I’m not totally out of it,” Mickelson said. “Obviously, heading into the weekend, I’d like to be closer, but as we have seen in the past, there is that 8-, 9-, 10-, in some cases 11-under par round out there.”
Indeed, the three-time champion has shot 11-under 60 twice in the event, in the second round in his 2005 victory and last year in the first round.
Watson, the long-hitting left-hander who won the 2012 Masters, followed his opening 64 with a 66 to reach 12 under. Jones, the Australian who played at Arizona State and lives in Scottsdale, had his second straight 65.
“It’s right where I want to be going into the weekend,” Watson said.
The 43-year-old Mickelson felt soreness in his back two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, and pulled out at Torrey Pines after making the 36-hole cut. He flew to Georgia to see back specialist Tom Boers and was told his facet joints locked up.
“My back feels great,” Mickelson said. “Like I said, it was a simple fix. I just don’t want to overdo it.”
Lefty saved par with a 12-footer on the par-5 15th hole after hitting his second shot into the water. On Thursday in his opening 71, he reached the green in two and three-putted for par from about the same distance.
“Very difficult conditions to go really low,” Mickelson said.
Harris English and Greg Chalmers shot 67 to reach 10 under, and Pat Perez, Kevin Stadler and Hideki Matsuyama were 9 under. Matsuyama had a 67, and Perez and Stadler shot 68.
Watson opened with a birdie on the par-4 10th. In 50-degree conditions with the wind hours away on the cloudy day when it barely reached the mid-60s, he hit a 315-yard drive to set up a 70-yard shot that he hit to 4 feet.
“Back is not as loose as you want it to be, weather is not as warm as you want it to be,” Watson said. “But I hit a good tee shot, and then I hit my wedge in there close and I made the putt. … That got me going.”
Wearing lime greens shoes and an otherwise all-black outfit, Watson bogeyed the par-3 seventh after driving right. He made a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 eighth and closed with a bogey on the par-4 ninth after his wedge shot spun off the green.
“I had two sloppy bogeys coming down the stretch, but I will take it,” Watson said.
Jones birdied four of his last six holes. He also played in the morning.
“We definitely got the good side of the draw,” Jones said.
Despite the cooler weather, the tournament set an attendance record for the third straight day with an estimated crowd of 123,674. Since Monday, an estimated 313,054 people have attended the event. The seven-day record of 538,356 was set in 2008.
Dubai Desert Classic
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy hit a wedge into 5 feet for birdie on the 18th hole for a 2-under 70 to regain the outright lead in the Dubai Desert Classic.
The chief challenge for McIlroy came from an American — but it wasn’t Tiger Woods.
Brooks Koepka, who earned his European Tour card last year by winning three times on the Challenge Tour, made seven birdies against no bogeys for a 65 that left him one shot behind McIlroy going into the weekend.
Woods, meanwhile, hit only four fairways and had to rely on some key putts to salvage a 73. He was in a tie for 44th, eight shots out of the lead.
McIlroy was at 11-under 133. He appeared to be in control at Emirates Golf Club, leading by three shots after his birdie at No. 10. But he drove wildly into the waste area on the par-5 13th and the par-4 16th holes, both leading to bogeys, before recovering on the 18th.
New Zealand Women's Open
Christchurch, New Zealand — New Zealand’s Stacey Tate stole the limelight from her Lydia Ko by shooting a 4-under 68 to share the lead with South Korea’s Seon Woo Bae after the opening round of the New Zealand Women’s Open.
Tate led outright after birdies at six of the first seven holes on her back nine, but bogeys at the last two holes brought her back into a tie with Bae in the Ladies’ European Tour event.
Ko returned to New Zealand after finishing seventh at the latest LPGA tour stop in the Bahamas and was among a group of five players on 69, one shot behind the leading pair.
Woods is making his first visit to India next week to play an exhibition with a top business executive. Woods said he will be the guest of Pawan Munjal, the CEO and managing director of Hero Motor Group, which makes motorcycles and scooters. They are to play an 18-hole match on Tuesday at Delhi Golf Club, which has hosted the Indian Open.
... Former Auburn and LPGA player Danielle Downey has died in a single-car accident. She was 33. Downey lost control on Lee Road 57, the car overturned several times and she was ejected at about 10 p.m. Thursday, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said Friday. Harris said she was apparently heading home after spending time with friends and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Downey was in her second season as Auburn’s director of golf operations. She filled in for coach Kim Evans during the 2012-13 season after Evans was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.