Golf: Mental focus, unique club help Mickelson turn back clock

Mickelson reacts after sinking his putt on the ninth hole during the second round. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KIAWAH ISLAND, UNITED STATES (AFP) - With meditation to help his mental focus and a unique hybrid 2-wood to shape shots, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson has made himself a threat to win the PGA Championship.

The five-time major winner fired a three-under par 69 in gusting winds at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course on Friday (May 21) to take the lead on five-under 139 after 36 holes.

The US left-hander has a chance to become the oldest champion in major golf history, eclipsing American Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.

Mickelson has been forced to address Father Time, most crucially in his mental game, having had to fight to keep focus for 72 holes recently.

"I'm working on it. I'm just making more and more progress by trying to elongate my focus," Mickelson said.

"I might try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn't feel like it's that much."

Producing a clear focus matters as much as any stroke, Mickelson said.

"I might try to elongate the time that I end up meditating, but I'm trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it because as I've gotten older, it has been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualisation and see the shot," he said.

"Physically, I feel like I'm able to perform and hit the shots that I've hit throughout my career. I feel like I can do it every bit as well as I have, but I've got to have that clear picture and focus."

Mickelson left himself several short putts and tap-ins thanks to his hybrid club.

"I've been using it a reasonable amount, certainly on holes that I want to keep it down and don't have a lot of forced carry," he said.

"It's a nice club for me to have when I feel a little bit uncomfortable because I can get it on the ground quicker and the miss isn't too bad."

Adding to the test is the longest layout in major golf history at 7,876 yards with an abrupt change from upwind to downwind holes.

Mickelson, ranked 115th, has had to be patient after bad holes and stay confident that chances for redemption will come.

"I was patient even though things weren't quite going well at the moment," he said of his second round.

"I was able to make an adjustment and ended up making some really good putts. I putted very well.

"I've been able to make some adjustments and not let a couple of poor strokes affect the overall round, which is something I haven't been doing as well, certainly not as well as I've been doing the last two days. It's been nice to make those adjustments and be able to get those strokes back."

'Having a blast'

Mickelson, an 11-time major runner-up, last won a major at the 2013 British Open and last finished in the top 10 at the 2016 British Open, so turning back the clock has been a joy.

"I'm having a lot of fun," he said. "To know I'm playing well heading into the weekend, to be in contention, to have a good opportunity, I'm having a blast. I'm excited for the weekend."

Mickelson has relied upon brother and caddie Tim Mickelson when it comes to coping with Kiawah Island's devilish winds.

"When we're playing into this wind we're getting as much as 22 to 38 yards of hurt depending on the trajectory and so forth," Phil Mickelson said.

"Making that type of adjustments is very difficult to do, and he's been doing a phenomenal job. We've been working very well together as a team, so we've been hitting a lot of clubs pin high."

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