LOS ANGELES — One shot clipped an ash tree and kept Phil Mickelson out of worse trouble than he was in.
Another landed behind a Bottle Brush, blocking his path to the 10th green at Riviera. On yet another hole, Mickelson had to thread a 9-iron through the limbs of five eucalyptus trees.
So when he walked into the gallery to find his tee shot on the 15th hole and saw a man flat on his back, Mickelson assumed the worst.
“It wouldn’t be the first time, so I thought for sure I took him out,” Mickelson said Saturday.
Instead, the spectator was being still because the ball was inside the hem of his shorts.
Despite all these adventures, Mickelson managed 1-under-par 70 on Saturday to share the lead with PGA champion Keegan Bradley in the Northern Trust Open.
On a day when “routine par” was not part of his vocabulary, Phil was thrilled.
“This was a great round for me because I did not play well, and I shot 1-under par and I’m atop the leaderboard,” Mickelson said. “Usually when I win, I’ll have two good rounds and I’ll have two rounds that aren’t so great that I’ve got to keep somewhere in it to give myself a chance.”
The past two days weren’t his best. He still has a great chance to end his West Coast Swing with back-to-back wins.
The toughest part might be ahead of him.
Bradley took only five putts over the last five holes, including a 10-footer for par on the last hole that got him into the final group, for 66 and his best chance at a win since he captured the PGA Championship in August.
What made the par so meaningful was getting a chance to play with Mickelson, whom he considers a mentor.
Even so, this is hardly a two-man race at Riviera.
Mickelson and Bradley are at 7-under 206, one shot ahead of Pat Perez (70), former Clemson golfer Jonathan Byrd (69) and former Georgia Tech golfer Bryce Molder (66). Mickelson wasn’t the only player on a wild ride along the fabled course off Sunset Boulevard.
Molder one-putted the last eight greens, five of them for par. Perez three-putted from 10 feet on No. 3, and on the next hole took four putts from 60 feet on the fringe, the last three from inside 5 feet. Byrd took only 21 putts in 18 holes.