January 19, 2019 / 1:28 AM / a month ago

Golf: Late birdie run keeps Mickelson ahead at Desert Classic

(Reuters) - Phil Mickelson birdied four of his last five holes on Friday to remain in front after two rounds of the Desert Classic in southern California.

Jan 18, 2019; La Quinta, CA, USA; Phil Mickelson plays his shot from the third tee during the second round of the Desert Classic golf tournament at PGA West - Nicklaus Tournament Course. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mickelson, who came up a shot shy of a 59 in his first round played at La Quinta Country Club, carded a four-under 68 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course to move to 16-under 128, two strokes ahead of Australian Curtis Luck (66).

The tournament is played out over three courses during its four days.

Luck, who at 22 is 26 years Mickelson’s junior, was let down by a pair of bogeys on par 3s coming home, including a painful one at his penultimate hole. He rallied to close with a birdie, his eighth of the day, to stand at 14-under 130.

Steve Marino (65), who aced the par three seventh at La Quinta, and Canadian Adam Hadwin (66) were tied for third a shot further back.

Mickelson, playing the back nine first, finished strongly after an even-par start for his first 13 holes with a double-bogey at the 18th, his ninth, the low moment.

He birdied the fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth holes for a pleasing finish.

“I kind of struggled that front nine, then I doubled that 18th hole, but I ended up birdieing four of the last five and turned it around,” he told PGA Tour Radio.

“I struck the ball every bit as well (as Thursday) but I just didn’t putt anywhere close as well as I did yesterday. I putted really good.”

He wound up with six birdies as opposed to 10 birdies and an eagle on Thursday.

“You can make birdies there if you play well, hit good shots, and I’m starting to drive the ball a lot longer and straighter than I have in a while so that sets up nicely for that course,” added Mickelson.

“I feel like I can play it aggressively with the way I’m hitting it off the tee.”

Luck has matched matched Mickelson with a tournament-leading 16 birdies, but both players will play the final two round on the tougher PGA West Stadium Course.

“Just like yesterday. Very solid, lot of greens, a lot of fairways,” said 2016 U.S. Amateur champion Luck. “Just missed a couple of short ones today, unfortunately, on the greens.”

Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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