Beacon Journal sports writer
Phil Mickelson is hoping to capitalize this week on his biggest rival becoming a tournament afterthought.
Mickelson could become No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings with a victory Sunday in the Bridgestone Invitational, moving past habitual leader Tiger Woods.
After the second round on Friday on the South Course at Firestone Country Club, Mickelson has put himself in championship contention. He had a round of 2-under 68 that left him at 6-under 134 and in a tie with fellow American Justin Leonard for second place, 1 shot behind leader Retief Goosen of South Africa.
Woods, meanwhile, is more a contender for last place than first place after shooting a 2-over 72 that left him at 6-over 146 and in a tie for 72nd place in the 81-player field.
Woods has been No. 1 in the world for slightly more than five consecutive years, but Mickelson could supplant him with a win Sunday, or by finishing fourth and Woods being 37th or lower.
''It would obviously be cool. I am not going to say it wouldn't. I would love to be regarded as No. 1 according to the rankings,'' said Mickelson, 40, who has 38 tour titles in a pro career that began in 1992. ''And I know that I have a great opportunity this week. I know that I am playing well.
''I try not to think about it. I want to come out and play well here. . .get in contention, get sharp and stay focused.''
Mickelson was solidly in a tie for second place Friday when he put together what can kindly be called an ''eventful'' final five holes.
He dropped into sixth place with a double bogey on No. 14 when he couldn't recover from an errant tee shot. He then followed that with consecutive birdies on No. 15 and No. 16, making putts of 21 feet and 13 feet, respectively, to move back into a tie for second.
Then, on No. 17, he hit a fan on the cart path with his drive and scrambled for par. On No. 18, the adventure concluded when he saved par by blasting out of a greenside bunker to two feet and making the putt.
''It was a little bit more interesting, I thought, the last five holes than all the stretch of pars in the middle of the round,'' said Mickelson, whose last title came in the 2010 Masters. ''I think that gentleman learned the hazards of following me.''
Mickelson, a resident of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., prospered despite an uneven performance in which he hit only six of 14 fairways but still managed to hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation.
''I didn't play great today. I was a little bit off,'' he said. ''But I was able to salvage a lot of pars.''
Goosen, 41, had six birdies and two bogeys Friday for a 6-under 66 that left him with a leading 36-hole total of 7-under 133.
Goosen is hungry for a title since he has no victories on the PGA Tour this year, although he and Matt Kuchar are tied for first in top-10 finishes with seven each.
''I've been playing quite consistently this year, which is quite nice. I've just not been winning. Obviously, you want to win,'' said Goosen, who won the U.S. Open in 2001 and 2004. ''This would be a great event to get my first win of the year. . .and we'll see what I can do around here on the weekend.''
The South Course has not always been kind to Goosen. In fact, it has been somewhat of a rude host. His best finish was a tie for fourth in 2008, but he was tied for 48th in 2006, tied for 61st in 2007 and tied for 29th in 2009.
''It's a good course. Every part of your game needs to be good here, driving especially,'' Goosen said. ''You need to hit it in the fairway, otherwise you're struggling. I think the difference here is I'm putting pretty well.
''I didn't drive it so good yesterday [Thursday], but caught a few breaks and today I drove it a bit better. Driving has probably been the thing I struggled with around this course the most in the past.''
Of Goosen's six birdies, none was bigger than the one on the 471-yard, par-4 No. 4.
A 285-yard drive left him in perfect position, but his 6-iron approach shot was far left of the green. He faced a difficult uphill chip that appeared to present a definite bogey possibility.
Instead, his chip from 78 feet was true, giving him a birdie that he said provided momentum the rest of the way.
''The turnaround was on the 4th today,'' Goosen said. ''You're looking at making bogey there and chipping it in sort of turned my round around and kept it going.''
Leonard, 38, whose 12 tour titles include the 1997 British Open, started strong with birdies on the first two holes and later added three more birdies.
Yet he said the key to his round was par saves on No. 9 and No. 16 after being in fairway bunkers on both holes. He salvaged pars with a 10-foot putt on No. 9 and a 12-foot putt on No. 16.
''Those are the things that can keep the momentum going by making a good up-and-down,'' said Leonard, a Dallas resident. ''Those are the keys to playing well at a golf course like this, where if you miss the fairway, you can be pretty severely penalized.''
First-round leader Bubba Watson followed his first round 64 with a 1-over 71 that left him in a tie for fourth place at 5-under 135 with Bo Van Pelt of Tulsa, Okla., and Peter Hanson of Sweden.
Stow's Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open champion, shot a par 70 for a total of 1-under 139. He was at 4-under par for the tournament when he suffered a double-bogey on No. 4, which was his 13th hole because he started on the back nine.