PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Phil Mickelson is a somewhat distant five shots back of the leaders at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am's halfway point, but after hearing the ominous weekend weather forecast, he actually smiled.
“As the reigning Scottish and British Open champion, I don't really mind the elements,” Mickelson said with a wry smile.
Handling of the elements almost certainly will determine who wins this year's AT&T. A couple of Texas residents, PGA Tour veteran Jimmy Walker and 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth, did just fine under blustery conditions Friday, shooting different but equally impressive rounds to share the lead at 9 under par.
The late-blooming 35-year-old Walker posted his second straight bogey-free round, a 3-under 69 at Spyglass Hill. Spieth had a more up-and-down 4-under 67 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club that included two bogeys but six birdies.
Walker and Spieth were a stroke ahead of Hunter Mahan, who shot a 4-under 68 at Spyglass, and two up on first-round leader Andrew Loupe, who followed an 8-under 63 at MPCC with a 1-over 73 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
And then there was Mickelson, who was poised to get closer into contention at the start of the day. He was one of 40 golfers who had to finish their Thursday opening round in the early morning. He finished up at MPCC at 5-under 66 and then headed over to Pebble Beach brimming with optimism. He has won the AT&T four times, including two years ago with a final-round 64 at Pebble Beach.
Alas, the putter betrayed him most of the day and he could never make a run. He, too, shot a 1-over 73 after finishing with a three-putt bogey at No. 18 and was tied for 17th.
“Tee to green I'm playing very well, but I haven't putted this poorly in a year,” Mickelson said. “For the way I'm hitting it, it's a little disappointing because I should have a really good opportunity. It's not too late, but I do have to get this putter worked out.”
He could get an assist from Mother Nature. Intermittent rain and gusty winds made scoring tough on all three Monterey Peninsula courses, and it's supposed to be just as bad and possibly worse Saturday. Sunday could bring wind and rain, though forecasts are calling for slightly better conditions.
Mickelson welcomes some of the old-time Crosby nastiness.
“More of this? Cool,” he said. “We've had a great run of weather probably the last six, seven years,” he said. “So we certainly can't complain. In fact, sometimes it can be a fun challenge.”
So how are Walker and Spieth bearing up under the wetness and stiff, chilly breezes? No problems so far.
Walker was fortunate enough to get Pebble Beach out of the way Thursday, carding a 6-under 66. Pebble Beach usually is the harshest test of the three courses when the weather get ugly.
“I've never really played Pebble when it's been (like that),” he said. “I hear it can get really gnarly. I hear stories of guy hitting 4-irons into 7 (the short par-3 on the ocean). So it was nice to play it well yesterday and get it done.”
Walker, a nine-year tour veteran who'll play MPCC on Saturday, has been on an incredible roll since winning the Frys.com Open in San Martin in October. It was his first victory in 188 tour starts, but since then, he's added the Sony Open title and is the leading money-winner and FedEx Cup points leader.
Historically, he's played the AT&T very well even though he hasn't won it, so he likes his chances now that he has the experience of two victories from which to draw.
“I think you start to get more comfortable and realize what it takes,” he said. “Before, I would think you've got to make a ton of birdies and you've got to do this and that. But I've learned a lot of times pars are really good ... and staying patient.”
That's precisely how Walker played Friday, getting a couple of early birdies and then stringing together several good par saves before rolling in a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 7 at Spyglass Hill with two holes to go.
Spieth, meanwhile, said the conditions got pretty testy at MPCC, which hugs the ocean for about half of its layout. Saturday, the Dallas native gets Pebble Beach, but the confident up-and-comer didn't sound intimidated by what could unfold weather-wise.
“I've played in weather similar or even worse than this before,” he said. “In Texas, we get strong winds. It's nothing new, it gets cold and windy, and it has been this winter when I've been practicing.
“It's not like I've been in California or Arizona practicing in a dome.”