Originally created 02/10/01

Love, Mickelson take lead



SAN DIEGO -- Phil Mickelson is weaker and 10 pounds lighter from a bout with food poisoning, but still in the same position he was at this time last year -- tied for the lead going into the weekend of the Buick Invitational.

On what might be the last day of dry weather, Mickelson had an 8-under 64 on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines to pull into a share of the 36-hole lead with Davis Love III, who beat him out of a win last week at Pebble Beach.

Mickelson, who stopped Tiger Woods' PGA Tour winning streak at six when he won the Buick Invitational last year, was at 132 and hopeful that his best golf -- not to mention a better physical condition -- was ahead of him.

"As the week has gone on, I've slowly felt better and better," he said. "Hopefully, by tomorrow or Sunday I'll be 100 percent."

Love joined him at 12-under 132, although not the way he would have envisioned. After belting a couple of good drives on the practice range, Love hit only four fairways on a sunny, slightly breezy day on the bluffs over the Pacific Ocean.

"I was happy with my swing, but I got a little out of rhythm with my driver," said Love, who managed to make the best out of a scrappy round with a 67.

First-round leader Brent Geiberger was another stroke back after a 69, while K.J. Choi had a 65 and was at 134.

Woods can't seem to play this tournament without flirting with a missed cut. He did that two years ago and came back to shoot 62-65 on the weekend and win. The "cut watch" was on last year, too, and Woods pulled himself together and was tied for the lead with five holes to play before finishing second.

This time, he was only five out of the lead and still battling the same symptoms -- a bad swing at the worst time, and good putts that seem to defy gravity.

He was at 2 under and around the cut line until a two-putt birdie on No. 9 of the South Course and a 30-foot eagle putt on the 13th. He wound up with a 67, just five strokes behind.

"I've been saying it all year -- I'm not that far off," Woods said. "I just have to stay patient. I've been through this before and when it clicks, it's going to be pretty good."

Then, Woods lost his patience with a swarming mass of media, fans and marshals crowded behind the scoring tent, made a quick U-turn and was still visibly upset about the security as he rapped a few putts on the practice green.

The only thing that has upset Mickelson this week was either a hamburger or a brownie he ate Sunday night. He spent seven hours in a hospital on Monday, the next two days trying to recover, and the last two playing slow, steady and solid.

"I've played at a very slow pace and haven't really had a problem," Mickelson said. "I don't know if there's a benefit, but certainly there's an old saying, 'Beware of the ailing golfer.' I tend to play more within myself. I try not to do too much."

With no scoreboards on the North Course, Mickelson had no idea what anyone else was doing but Love, who was in his threesome.

That will change this weekend, with several people -- Woods included -- within a quick birdie binge of the lead.

Mike Weir of Canada had a 67 and was in a large group at 135, while Tom Lehman and Jose Maria Olazabal were in the group at 136.

Odds are, Mickelson and Love will also have to deal with the weather. Friday was expected to be the last day of dry, sunny conditions before a cold rain moves in for the weekend, the kind of weather expected last week at Pebble Beach.

Maybe that's what Mickelson needs.

A week ago, he was in position to win Pebble until he missed a couple of short putts on the back nine and then hit a driver off the 18th fairway and down onto the beach below, when a birdie would have forced a playoff.

Mickelson has proven to be a much better closer than Love, winning seven out of the 10 times when he has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead. Love has been in that position 20 times and come away with three victories.

Still, Love's confidence is high after winning last week and ending an 0-for-62 drought on the PGA Tour. And despite a shaky day with the driver, he can console himself with the fact that he turned a sloppy round into a decent score.

"It was actually a pretty good round," he said. "It might have been even better than yesterday because I got a lout of out it. Today was a good day for hanging in there."

All Woods could do was hang around. But with the only five strokes separating him from the lead and 36 holes left to play, the tournament was still up for grabs.

Divots: Tom Byrum, leading early in the first round at 5 under and just three off the lead, wound up missing the cut with a 75. It didn't help Byrum when he had to back off a shot because a food vendor yelled out, "Can you get a hold of Jerry and see if he has any onions yet?" ... John Daly is using a Titleist Pro V1 with his logo on it, a lion with a colorful mane swinging with his "grip-it-and-rip it" style. Daly had a 69 and was at 140. ... Fuzzy Zoeller, who hasn't finished in the top 100 on the money list since his "fried chicken and collard greens" remark about Tiger Woods, made the cut for the second week in a row.