Practice paying off for Mickelson

LOS ANGELES (AP) - This is the kind of golf Phil Mickelson envisioned playing at the start of the year.

Mickelson said he was having great practice sessions at home with little to show for it on the scorecard until it all came together last week at Pebble Beach. He shot a flawless 64 in the final round _ 11 shots better than playing partner Tiger Woods _ and rallied from six shots behind for a win that he thought might change his fortunes.

Four days later, from Pebble Beach to Riviera, he might be right.

Mickelson made a long birdie putt, hit driver off the fairway to become the only player to reach the 587-yard 11th hole into the wind, and finished by chipping in for birdie from behind the 18th green.

It gave him a 5-under 66 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the Northern Trust Open.

Thirty players had to return Friday morning to complete the first round, typical of a tournament that has a 144-man field despite limited daylight this time of the year off Sunset Boulevard.

“I felt very confident at the start of the year because I had played eight to 10 rounds exactly like Sunday’s final round,” Mickelson said. “I felt like I was so amped up and ready to start the season that I came out and played three terrible tournaments. And my confidence took a little bit of a hit.

“To come back and play the way I know I can play, it gets my confidence right back to where I was starting the season.”

Not surprisingly, his position on the leaderboard is where it was Sunday at Pebble.

Mickelson had a one-shot lead over Hunter Mahan, who ran off four straight birdies late in his round, and J.B. Holmes, who is picking up more strength in his fourth tournament back from brain surgery last September.

Jonathan Byrd had a 68, notable because he played in the morning when the air was chilly and the eucalyptus trees were shaking with gusts that reached 20 mph, making Riviera so tough that only seven of the 72 players from the morning wave broke par.

Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, also played in the morning and was pleased with a 70.

“It was freezing, blowing a gale and it was not easy,” Donald said. “This course is tough with benign conditions, so with the added wind and the greens _ they’re fast. They seemed a little bit faster than usual.”

Mickelson, meanwhile, keeps right on rolling.

Dating to the back nine of his second round at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Mickelson has made birdie or eagle on one-third of the holes he has played. And his streak of consecutive holes without a bogey finally ended at 49 on the par-3 16th.

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