Phil Mickelson refused to be overshadowed by his great rival Tiger Woods on the second day of the Ford Championship at Doral in Florida today.
Defending champion Woods, leader by one overnight, added a 67 to his opening 64, but Mickelson, runner-up last year, birdied two of the last three holes for a 66 and so joined the world number one in the early clubhouse lead on 13 under par.
“This guy Tiger seems to play well every day, every week,” said Mickelson before the round. “I’m just trying to keep pace so I can maybe have another shot at duelling out with him on Sunday.
“I’m glad that he’s playing well – I’ve got to do my part and stay with him.”
Nobody has made a successful defence of this title since Ray Floyd in 1981, but Woods had stated: “Hopefully I can go out and post another good number because you have to. If you shoot even par you’re going to get run over here.”
The opening round was not totally to his satisfaction. After finding the lake with his second to the long 10th he said: “I was saying a few things to myself, explaining to myself that my intelligence was not where it needed to be.”
Returning to the event where Woods won by one last year with closing rounds of 63 and 66 the pair kicked off the second round with birdies to throw down the gauntlet to each other again.
Mickelson grabbed an eagle on the long eighth to turn in 33, but Woods, resuming on the back nine this time, matched that by picking up further shots on the 16th and 18th.
The similarity remained remarkable when both chipped to three feet for birdies at the start of their second nine, but Woods went two clear with a superb pitch to two feet on the second.
His first bogey of the week came when he failed to get up and down from sand on the fourth and he soon lost the outright lead – not to Mickelson, but to former US PGA champion Rich Beem.
However, Beem finished with a three-putt bogey and Woods came straight back with a birdie on the fifth before Mickelson got on level terms after pitching to 10 and five feet at the 16th and 17th.
They then had to wait to see if they would remain out in front and therefore paired together for the third round.
Padraig Harrington and David Howell, four under and three under overnight, were among the later starters, as was Ernie Els, who on level par faced a battle to keep alive the longest active run of cuts made on the US Tour.
The South African, who holds the European cut record, last made an early exit in America at the 2004 Bay Hill Invitational.
The cut was expected to fall at three under – and Els was only one off that after starting with two successive birdies.
Swedes Daniel Chopra and Fredrik Jacobson stood seven under, Sergio Garcia had his second successive 69 for six under, while Jesper Parnevik was on the same mark after a remarkable nine birdies in his 66.
But Brian Davis and Justin Rose missed the cut on level par.