The defending champion shot 4-under-par 67 in his afternoon round Friday at cool and breezy TPC Scottsdale, leaving him eight strokes behind leaders Bubba Watson and Matt Jones.
Watson and Jones are 12-under. Watson followed his opening 64 with 66, and Jones had his second consecutive 65 – both in calmer conditions in the morning.
Mickelson, 43, felt soreness in his back two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, and pulled out of his hometown event at Torrey Pines after making the 36-hole cut.
EUROPEAN TOUR: In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Rory McIlroy birdied his last hole to keep the lead to himself halfway through the Dubai Desert Classic.
Meanwhile, playing partner Tiger Woods carded 1-over-par 73 to drop into a tie for 44th.
McIlroy’s 18-hole lead was cut in half to one shot over European Tour-based American Brooks Koepka, who birdied his opening three holes in 65 to move to 10-under.
Three players – Danny Willett (65), Damien McGrane (70) and Julien Quesne (70) – share third place on 8-under.
Former Augusta State player Scott Jamieson shot a second-round 69 to make the cut on the number.
Meanwhile, former Masters Tournament champion Fred Couples birdied the final two holes for 71 to make the cut by a shot, meaning he’ll miss Sunday’s Super Bowl.
According to ESPN.com, Couples bought two tickets to the Super Bowl six months ago on a hunch that his hometown Seattle Seahawks would make it to the game.
He had seats on the 50-yard line.
“Call me stupid,” said Couples, who raised the “12th Man” flag before the Seahawks’ game against New Orleans on Dec. 23.
The winner of the Dubai Desert Classic in 1995, Couples came back this year as part of the tournament’s 25th anniversary celebration.