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BellSouth is Mickelson's to win

Associated Press
Published April 2, 2006


DULUTH, Ga. - Things are going so well for Phil Mickelson in the BellSouth Classic that he embraced his first adversity in the tournament as yet another positive.

Mickelson was on pace to challenge the lowest 54-hole total in PGA Tour history before he lost three strokes on his last three holes Saturday, forcing him to settle for a 5-under 67 and an eight-stroke lead at 21-under 195.

A double bogey on 18, where he twice found water, was his worst hole of three rounds. He finished four strokes off the best 54-hole total on a par-72 course in PGA Tour history - Gay Brewer's 25-under 191 in the 1967 Pensacola Open.

Was Mickelson disappointed?

"Actually, no," he said. "It's probably a positive because the last thing I want to do is have a record or be thinking about it. That's not my goal right now. It's to get my game shot and get some momentum, not just to finish this tournament properly, but for next week."

Mickelson is in position for a wire-to-wire victory that would affirm his status as one of the favorites in the Masters next week.

Thanks in part to the bogey on 16 and double bogey on 18, Mickelson says he can focus on his game instead of worrying about chasing the best 72-hole total on a par-72 course in PGA Tour history - 29-under 259 by Joe Durant in the 90-hole Bob Hope Classic in 2001, matched by Tim Herron in the same tournament in 2003.

Mickelson, who matched the TPC at Sugarloaf course record with a 63 in the first round, would need a 64 Sunday for a 259.

"The record is going to be pretty much out of reach," he said. "I'm not going to be thinking about it. I'm just going to be worried about keeping the ball in play and hitting some good shots and making birdies."

Jonathan Byrd and 2004 winner Zach Johnson were tied for second at 203. Jose Maria Olazabal was fourth at 12-under 204.

Johnson shot a 64 to reach 13 under. Johnson also was at 203 through three rounds in 2004, but that year the total was good for a three-shot lead.

The difference, of course, is Mickelson.

"That's just freaky good golf," Johnson said. "You want to say there's always a chance, but it's hard to say in this situation. You have to keep playing."

Byrd shot a 66 and joins Mickelson as the only players with three rounds in the 60s.

CHAMPIONS TOUR:

Morris Hatalsky shot a 5-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead over Scott Simpson, Gil Morgan, Danny Edwards, Tom Purtzer and Massy Kuramoto after the second round of the Blue Agave Golf Classic in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

EUROPEAN PGA:

Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez eagled the 18th hole to match the course record with an 8-under 64 and take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Paul Broadhurt of England in the Algarve Open in Portimao, Portugal.

TODAY ON TV: European, Portugal Open, 9 a.m., GC: PGA, BellSouth Classic, 3 p.m., Ch. 8; Champions, Puerto Vallarta Blue Agave Classic (taped), 6, GC.