Salisbury JournalMickelson back to his best (From Salisbury Journal)

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Mickelson back to his best

Salisbury Journal: Phil Mickelson has enjoyed a swift upturn in fortunes (AP) Phil Mickelson has enjoyed a swift upturn in fortunes (AP)

Open champion Phil Mickelson was back to his brilliant, unpredictable best as he charged into contention for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Saturday.

Mickelson made the halfway cut with just one shot to spare after rounds of 73 and 70, the five-time major winner failing to record a single birdie on the opening day.

But the left-hander insisted on Friday he had "a good, low round in me tomorrow" and was as good as his word, carding a sparkling 63 which vaulted him from joint 43rd into the lead on 10 under par.

Mickelson birdied the first, second and fourth at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and after dropping a shot on the fifth, bounced straight back with a birdie on the next.

An eagle on the par-five eighth took the 43-year-old to the turn in 31 and further birdies on the 10th, 11th and 13th meant the 43-year-old even had an outside chance of shooting the first ever 59 on the European Tour.

That chance effectively disappeared with a bogey on the 14th, but Mickelson bounced back with a birdie on the next and another on the last was conjured up in typical fashion.

Despite finding a fairway bunker from the tee, Mickelson attempted to reach the green on the 562-yard par five in two, but carved his approach into the sandy waste area left of the fairway.

However, from 98 yards he demonstrated his renowned short-game prowess, hitting a low pitch under the branches of a palm tree and onto the green, holing the putt from around 30 feet.

"It was not a smart decision out of the bunker to go for the green, but I don't know, that's just what I do," Mickelson joked. "Bones (his caddie Jim Mackay) did not like the decision and I don't blame him. It wasn't probably my smartest play.

"I hit a terrible shot but because it was sitting on a fairly hard, packed lie, I was able to go in steep and keep it low underneath the trees and I had plenty of green to work with.

"I will still be back a few shots I anticipate heading into tomorrow's round, but I love the fact that I'm in contention and I have an opportunity (to win) here in the first week of the year."

Overnight leaders Craig Lee and Rafael Cabrera-Bello began their rounds with three straight pars to remain nine under, one ahead of former world number one Rory McIlroy.

Mickelson had praised McIlroy's driving as "impeccable" after partnering the Northern Irishman for the first two days, but it was a long putt on the third which was responsible for McIlroy's first birdie of the day.

McIlroy, who missed the cut here 12 months ago in his first tournament following his multi-million pound switch to Nike, picked up further shots at the seventh and eighth to join Mickelson on 10 under.

However, Lee was not about to allow the two star attractions to have it all their own way, birdies on the sixth and seventh taking the 36-year-old from Stirling into the lead on 11 under.

Lee's best finish on the European Tour came when he lost a play-off to Thomas Bjorn for the Omega European Masters last September, and a repeat clash remained a possibility with Bjorn moving to 10 under thanks to birdies on the second, seventh and eighth.

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