- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES — One shot clipped an ash tree and kept Phil Mickelson out of worse trouble than he was in. Another landed behind a Bottle Brush, blocking his path to the 10th green at Riviera. On yet another hole, Mickelson had to thread a 9-iron through the limbs of five eucalyptus trees.

So when he walked into the gallery to find his tee shot on the 15th hole and saw a man flat on his back, Mickelson assumed the worst.

“It wouldn’t be the first time, so I thought for sure I took him out,” Mickelson said Saturday.

Instead, the spectator was being still because the ball was inside the hem of his shorts.

Despite all these adventures, Mickelson managed a 1-under 70 on Saturday to share the lead with PGA champion Keegan Bradley in the Northern Trust Open.

On a day when “routine par” was not part of his vocabulary, Phil was thrilled.

“This was a great round for me because I did not play well, and I shot 1-under par and I’m atop the leaderboard,” Mickelson said. “Usually when I win, I’ll have two good rounds and I’ll have two rounds that aren’t so great that I’ve got to keep somewhere in it to give myself a chance.”

The last two days weren’t his best. He still has a great chance to end his West Coast Swing with back-to-back wins.

The toughest part might be ahead of him.

Bradley took only five putts over the last five holes, including a 10-footer for par on the last hole that got him into the final group, for a 5-under 66 and his best chance at a win since he captured the PGA Championship in August.

What made the par so meaningful was getting a chance to play with Mickelson, whom he considers a mentor. Mickelson invited Bradley in on one of his money games before The Players Championship, where Mickelson graciously showed him the nuances of the TPC Sawgrass, until they reached the last green and the cash was on the line.

Mickelson told Bradley and Brendan Steele to get out their wallets, and then he poured in a putt.

“He’s a very competitive guy, but he’s very helpful at the same time,” Bradley said. “I think him for his advice and help. But he’s going to try to beat me tomorrow, and I’m going to have to try to do the same.”

Even so, this is hardly a two-man race at Riviera.

Mickelson and Bradley were at 7-under 206, one shot ahead of Pat Perez (70), Jonathan Byrd (69) and Bryce Molder (66). Mickelson wasn’t the only player on a wild ride along the fabled course off Sunset Boulevard.

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