PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Spectacular sunshine at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am must bring out the best in Phil Mickelson.
Three years ago, Mickelson scorched Pebble Beach to win the tournament on a picture-perfect day on the Monterey Peninsula. Of course, that was in August, the bizarre end of a tournament that was pushed back nearly seven months because of rain.
With sea lions basking on the rocks below, Mickelson enjoyed another glorious day by shooting a 6-under 66 at Pebble Beach to share the 54-hole lead with Olin Browne, who had a 65 down the road at Poppy Hills.
"This is a pleasant surprise," Mickelson said. "It's really been a spectacular week, which is great for this tournament because it's been really hurt by the weather and so many things have been questioned about it."
The only questions Saturday was what happened to Matt Gogel and John Daly, who each suffered through shocking collapses.
And where was Tiger Woods?
A year after his incredible comeback on a gray and drizzling Monday afternoon, Woods never got on track in his round of 69 and was six strokes back, in need of the biggest comeback of his PGA Tour career.
It was his first time in competition at Pebble since his historic 15-stroke victory in the U.S. Open last June. Woods bogeyed the first two holes in pristine conditions, and had a 4-foot birdie putt horseshoe around the cup on the final hole.
"It's indicative of how my year has gone," Woods said of the lipout.
Mickelson missed a 2-foot birdie putt on the 14th, but made more than his share to put him in the final pairing Sunday with Browne.
"What I have found is when the putts fall in the hole, I take a lot of pressure off my ball-striking," Mickelson said. "As soon as the putts start missing and confidence wavers, now all of a sudden you feel you have to attack the pins."
Browne made an eagle on his first hole at Poppy Hills and finished off his 65 by nearly chipping in for eagle on his last hole.
He and Mickelson were at 14-under 202.
Masters champion Vijay Singh had a 70 at Spyglass Hill and was two strokes behind. Mike Weir of Canada, who has managed to catch a nasty cold in such glorious weather, made two eagles at Poppy for a 65 that put him at 11-under 205.
Not everyone enjoyed the day.
Gogel, whose 40 on the back nine last year set the stage for Woods to make up seven strokes on the last seven holes to win, didn't wait for the final round for his game to leave him. He had an 81 at Spyglass - 19 strokes worse than his career round the day before at Poppy Hills - and was 10 strokes behind.
Daly wasn't much better. Known as much for his blowups as his two major championships, he opened with a quadruple-bogey 9 on his first hole, went out in 46 and had to birdie four of the last six holes to break 80. Daly had a 79 and missed the cut.
"I've been through so much stuff, I can't let my golf game get me down any more," Daly said. "It was just weird - 10-over-par after three holes."
Mickelson had no such worries.
He was slowly working his way into contention when he rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 9 and hit an 8-iron into 5 feet two holes later. He finished off with a good birdie, playing a slight fade with a 3-wood to the fringe at No. 18 to set up a two-putt birdie.
Mickelson usually plays his best golf in the first part of the year, so this week is important. He made too many big numbers in Hawaii, and missed the cut in Phoenix last week when he tried to work through a pulled muscle in his lower back.
"I feel very comfortable with the way my golf swing is right now," said Mickelson, trying to build on the momentum from his four victories last year, including a Tour Championship victory over Woods. "The misses seem to be much better."
Browne made eagle on his first hole at Poppy Hills to get in the right frame of mind. Actually, just being on the Monterey Peninsula and being able to see his shadow puts him in a good mood. The view is stunning, and it's even better from the top.
"It's such a joy to be here," he said. "I'm loving every second of it."
Browne has won twice on the PGA Tour, but never playing in the final group. He'll be paired with Mickelson and their amateur partners Sunday.
Woods will he hard-pressed to repeat his performance from last year, when he finished eagle-birdie-par-birdie to complete a final-round 64.
While he opened with a 66 on the day after he sprained a knee ligament bumping into a fan, he has looked rather ordinary the past two days. And like everyone else, he is at the mercy of greens that are soft and bumpy because of the number of pros and amateurs leaving heel prints.
"When you get behind, you need to get off to a good start and that's what I'm going to try to do - better than I did today," he said.
So many others won't get that chance.
David Duval had a 71 at Pebble Beach and missed the cut for the second week in a row. Casey Martin, playing in his first PGA Tour event since the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on his right to ride a cart, finished at 217 and also missed the cut.
Mickelson had last weekend off in Phoenix, but put the extra time to good use by working on his game. It appears to have paid off, and he's in good position to claim another victory in the sunshine of Pebble Beach, this time right on schedule.
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