An Arizona State Sun Devil and an Arizona Wildcat are near the top of the leaderboard after two rounds of the Masters Tournament.
Two-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, a 1992 graduate of Arizona State University, stands at 6-under-par for the tournament after shooting a second-round score of 1-under-par 71 on Friday at Augusta National Golf Club. Among the four players tied with Mickelson at -6 is Ricky Barnes, a 2003 alumnus of the University of Arizona who shot a 2-under-par 70 on Friday.
Mickelson and Barnes, who trail Masters co-leaders Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood by two shots heading into Saturday’s third round, are tied for third along with Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim and K.J. Choi.
“It’s a good position,” Mickelson said. “I’m two back. I’m in third place. We’ve got 36 holes left, and I feel like I’m right on the cusp of really having a good round. I’ve putted and rolled the ball so good these last few days and caught so many lips. As soon as a couple of those 12-, 15-footers start to fall, I think I can get in the mid-60s.”
Mickelson made three birdies and two bogeys en route to his score of 71 on Friday, one day after recording an eagle, four birdies and a bogey during his opening-round 67.
“I thought the pin placements were a lot more difficult (on Friday),” Mickelson said. “And I knew going out that it was going to be much more difficult to shoot under par or shoot in the 60s because it was a lot harder to get to some of those pins.”
Barnes converted three birdies on Friday and made one bogey on the way to a round of 70. The previous day, he posted an eagle, three birdies and a bogey for a 68.
“I was putting the ball in good spots,” Barnes said Friday. “You can hit a lot of greens out here and hit them in the wrong spots, but when I’m hitting them in the right spots, when I’m doing it and my distance control is good, I like my chances. At worst I had a lot of tap-ins for pars. And that’s a huge thing out here. If you can take the most stress off of you for tapping in for par as opposed to grinding over 5-, 10-, 15-footers for par, it’s going to make your life a lot easier.”
Barnes, 29, is playing in his second Masters. He finished as low amateur (and 21st overall) at Augusta in 2003, which was his senior year at the University of Arizona. Barnes was honored as a First-Team All-American at the UA in 2003. During the previous summer, he won the 2002 U.S. Amateur.
Barnes has made nine of 10 cuts this season on the PGA Tour. He placed ninth at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles for his top finish of 2010. Barnes’ career highlight on the PGA Tour came at last season’s U.S. Open, where he tied for second after holding the third-round lead.
“I know I’ve been in this position, and I know I’m good enough to compete,” Barnes said after his round Friday at the Masters. “I can hit the golf shots and get something done. I finished second last year (at the U.S. Open) and that was my last major that I played in. I didn’t get into the British or the PGA. So I’m looking forward to this weekend. I’m going to get some good rest and maybe get a few reps in and look forward to the weekend.”
Barnes has his brother and University of Arizona assistant coach Andy Barnes caddying for him for this week, just as he did for his runner-up finish at the 2009 U.S. Open and his victory in the 2002 U.S. Amateur.
“On the bag it’s great because if there’s anyone in the world that knows my golf game better than I do, it’s him,” Barnes said.
Barnes will be paired with Kim on Saturday with a tee time of 2:25 p.m. Eastern (11:25 a.m. Arizona time). Their starting time is scheduled for 10 minutes after that of Mickelson and Y.E. Yang (-5), who will begin their rounds at 2:15 p.m. at Augusta.
Mickelson, a four-time All-American and three-time NCAA champion during his collegiate career from 1989 to 1992 at Arizona State, is seeking his third Green Jacket after winning the Masters in 2004 and 2006.
“I just love this place, and there’s a couple things about it that fit me, and that is there’s enough room to recover,” Mickelson said Friday about Augusta National Golf Club. “There’s not this big, heavy rough. Underneath the pine trees you have swings, you have a shot. And because of that, I feel like I can make a mistake, it frees up my golf swing, and I swing harder every drive here at Augusta than I do any other week. If I miss a couple, I’m still able to have a shot (to) get it up by the green and let my short game save par.”
Mickelson, who turns 40 in June, has won 37 tournaments (including three majors) on the PGA Tour. He earned his first victory on the tour during his junior year at ASU when, competing as an amateur, he won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open in Tucson (thus becoming the youngest player ever to win a PGA Tour event at 20 years, 6 months, 25 days).
This season, Mickelson has been off to a slow start, by his standards. While the left-hander has made the cut in all eight events he has entered, his best finish of 2010 has been a tie for eighth at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
After breaking par in each of his first two rounds at Augusta, Mickelson is confident that his game is rounding into shape for a Saturday and Sunday run for the Green Jacket.
“There’s nothing like being in contention on the weekend at Augusta National,” Mickelson said. “There’s no better feeling in the game. There’s nothing you dream of more. I’m within two shots. I’m playing very well, and I feel like I’m right on the edge.”