Mickelson stretches lead in BellSouth

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DULUTH, Ga. (AP) – Phil Mickelson says that he isn’t shooting for any records this week at the BellSouth Classic. He says his focus is on preparing for the Masters.

At least one of his competitors says Mickelson looks like he’s shooting for more than just momentum.

Mickelson shot a 65 Friday as he continued to attack the TPC at Sugarloaf course at a record pace.

One day after matching the course record with a first-round 63, Mickelson was 7 under in the second round to set a tournament record for 36 holes at 16-under 128.

Mickelson said his emphasis is to carry some steam into the Masters next week. He said he isn’t thinking about setting a PGA scoring record.

“I think that the way that the course is continually getting more difficult, I think that’s unrealistic,” Mickelson said, adding

“What you’re talking about is not in my mind, no.”

The PGA record for most strokes under par through four rounds on a par-72 course is 29 under by Joe Durant in the 2001 Bob Hope Classic.

Mickelson is on pace to finish at 32-under 256. The PGA record low total for 72 holes is 254 by Tommy Armour III in the 2003 Texas Open.

“I think at the moment Phil is the only one really doing the fireworks,” said Jose Maria Olazabal, who shot an 8-under 64 in the second round. “I think he’s the one that really maybe has that record in his sight.”

There was a long procession of low scores again Friday, when 79 players at par or better survived the cut.

Those chasing Mickelson, including Olazabal, spoke as if the tournament’s defending champion was distancing himself from the field in Tiger-like fashion.

Even with an impressive two-day total of 135, Olazabal still trails Mickelson by seven strokes.

“It’s going to be very difficult for anybody to catch him unless we play some really awesome golf on the weekend,” Olazabal said.

J.J. Henry matched Mickelson’s 65 Friday to move into second at 134 – a total that would have led in five of the previous nine years. Instead, Henry is six shots off Mickelson’s lead.

Gavin Coles, who was one stroke behind Mickelson following his first-round 64, was 3 over through six holes Friday before recovering for a 72. Coles is fourth at 136, followed by Charles Warren, Jonathan Byrd and Shane Bertsch in a three-way tie for fifth.

Duffy Waldorf shot a 66 Friday and is 6 under at 138.

Mickelson is not accustomed to such big leads here. He needed playoffs to win the BellSouth last year and in 2000.

Aside from 2003, when he missed the cut, Mickelson has been over par in only four of his last 24 rounds at Sugarloaf.

Mickelson said it would be difficult to play at his current pace for two more rounds.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do,” he said. “On the other hand, when you’re playing well and you have some confidence, if you just get a couple of putts to go in, it sets the tone for the day.”

Mickelson, who started on the back 9, opened with birdies on 10 and 11.

“I was able to attack a lot of pins and get the ball close and play for birdies, rather than fighting for par,” he said.

“I don’t think I go into any round expecting to shoot 63 or 65. … You never know if the putts are going to fall. You never know if you’re going to read them right. It kind of came together.”

The Sugarloaf course ranked as the PGA’s 17th-toughest in 2005.

“I don’t think the golf course is playing any different to how it played maybe last year or a couple years ago,” Olazabal said. “It’s just him playing great golf.”

While Mickelson gained momentum for the Masters, Chris DiMarco – the runner-up to Tiger Woods last year in Augusta – missed the cut with rounds of 75-78 for a 6-over 153.

DiMarco immediately turned his focus to the Masters.

“Obviously I’m a little disappointed in this week but the good news is there’s always next week,” DiMarco said. “I’ve got a lot of good memories there. I got nothing good out of this week so let’s go on to next week.”

Rory Sabbatini, the tour’s leading money winner this season, missed the cut at 1 over.

Sabbatini held the tournament’s previous best two-round total at Sugarloaf with a 130 in 1999. He fell back the next two days to finish tied for third behind winner David Duval.

AP-ES-03-31-06 1952EST

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