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Mickelson closing in on Phoenix lead

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson was locked in concentration over a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th, the nearly 20,000 onlookers mostly quiet on the amphitheater hole except a fan who screamed "Tiger would make it!"

Playing partner Bill Haas heard it, but Mickelson was oblivious to the slight, perfectly striking the putt that drew a thunderous cheer when it dropped in.

"It's Saturday of the Phoenix Open. It's always fun," Mickelson said. "There's a lot of people out here. I don't think there's a shot I wanted to make more, other than a major championship, than that putt on 16. I wanted to make that so bad.

"To see that go in with the crowd right there was a great feeling."

That and a birdie on the short par-4 17th helped Mickelson close within four of Tommy Gainey halfway through the frost-delayed tournament.

"There's a lot of golf left," Mickelson said. "Even though it's Saturday — it feels like it's the third round — but we've only played two, so we're halfway through and to be within a few shots, it's where everybody is trying to get to."

The former Arizona State star, the 1996 and 2005 winner at TPC Scottsdale, birdied six of the last 11 holes for 6-under 65. He was 10 under for two rounds in the tournament that will end Monday because of long delays Thursday and Friday.

Gainey played nine holes Saturday, finishing off 65. He missed the cut in his first three events of the year.

"My ball-striking is really good," Gainey said. "I hit a couple bad shots (Saturday), but they weren't bad enough to get in any trouble."

EXEMPTION CHANGE: The U.S. Open will rely more on the world ranking than money list in America and Europe to determine which players will be exempt from qualifying.

The U.S. Golf Association said players now will have two chances to crack the top 50 and get into the U.S. Open: May 23 and June 13, the final ranking before the championship. Last year, Memorial winner Justin Rose and runnerup Rickie Fowler moved into the top 50 two weeks after the cutoff.

EUROPEAN: Thomas Bjorn shot 6-under 66 to take a one-shot lead over overnight leader Markus Brier into the final round of the Qatar Masters in Doha. Bjorn finished at 11-under 205.

LADIES EUROPEAN: Defending champion Yani Tseng shot 5-under 68 to take a three-stroke lead into the final round of the Women's Australian Open in Melbourne. Tseng had a three-round total of 14-under 205.

Mickelson closing in on Phoenix lead 02/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 5, 2011 10:45pm]
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