Denny McCarthy

Phil Mickelson has a share of the PGA Championship lead at 50, but Corey Conners is still lurking


Canadian Corey Conners is trying to chase down Phil Mickelson this weekend at the PGA Championship. Mickelson, however, is chasing history.

The 50-year-old Mickelson is tied for the lead with fellow major champion Louis Oosthuizen through 36 holes. The only player 50 or older to hold at least a share of the lead at the PGA Championship at the end of any of the second, third, or final rounds was Sam Snead in 1966.

The 2005 PGA Champion was 2-over through nine holes on Friday but came in with a sizzling 5-under 31 on his second nine holes to shoot a 3-under 69. He was part of the morning wave of golfers, but as the wind blew through the afternoon, his 5-under par total through 36 holes held up.

“Right now, there’s a lot of work to do,” said Mickelson, who will be in the final group on Saturday. “But the fact is I’m heading into the weekend with an opportunity and I’m playing really well and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”

For all the recent laughs at Mickelson’s choice of sunglasses, his wellness coffee, and social media posts where he uses phrases like hitting “hellacious seeds” — Mickelson-speak for a long, screaming drive — he’s got a legitimate shot at winning a sixth major title this weekend, even with no top-10 finishes to this point of the season.

Mickelson’s brother, Tim, has been his caddie the last few seasons. He said when his multi-major-winning brother is home, he plays every day. He sees how much he still wants to win, even as he gets older.

“You can’t win if you’re not in contention, so to have a chance with 36 holes to go, with a chance to win, it obviously feels pretty good,” said Tim Mickelson.

Conners, of Listowel, Ont., held the first-round lead after a 5-under 67 but he had a topsy-turvy start to Friday’s round. He didn’t make a par until his eighth hole after five bogeys and two birdies and shot a 3-over 75.

Conners battled to the end, though, and did birdie two of his final three holes. He’s 2-under for the championship and just three shots back of the lead going into Saturday.

“Still felt like I did a lot of things well throughout the round, just didn’t score it as well as I would have liked,” Conners said. “Overall, I’m happy with the way I battled after the tough start. Looking forward to getting myself back to the top this weekend.”

Phil Mickelson joined Sam Snead as the only golfers 50 or older to hold at least a share of the lead at the PGA Championship at the end of any of the second, third, or final rounds.

Conners’ coach, Derek Ingram, said Friday afternoon by phone from Kiawah Island that the wind was blowing much stronger than Thursday and when gusts popped up, they killed Conners’ momentum.

Thursday marked Conners’ first time leading a major championship. But Ingram said his long-time pupil, who has finished in the top-10 in back-to-back majors, has a game built for the biggest stages in the game.

“You don’t compete in a major unless you weather a bit of adversity, and he weathered a good bit today,” Ingram said.

The biggest name to miss the cut was world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who finished at 6-over. After an early exit at the Masters as well, Johnson became the first golfer on top of the world rankings to miss the first two major cuts of the year since Greg Norman in 1997.

Mackenzie Hughes, of Dundas, Ont., was 2-under through 11 holes but bogeyed five of his last seven — including four in a row to finish — to fall outside the cutline as well.

The other member of the Canadian triumvirate this week at Kiawah Island, Adam Hadwin, of Abbotsford, B.C., did make the cut. He gutted out a 1-under-par 71 and will find the weekend on the PGA Tour for the first time in a month, despite making bogey on his final two holes Friday.

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While Hadwin made the cut with a shot to spare, it’s Conners that’s now battling for the lead, again, at a major.

“We were talking after,” Ingram said of his post-round chat with Conners, “and I said, ‘There is not one part of your game I’m concerned about. How about you?’ And he said, ‘Nope, nothing.’ ”

AS

Adam Stanley is an Ottawa-based contributor to the Star’s Sports section and the host of the golf podcast Next Round’s On Me. Follow him on Twitter: @adam_stanley

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