PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Victories have been elusive for Phil Mickelson over the past five years, but he has given himself another chance on the Monterey Peninsula, where he will seek a tournament-record-tying fifth victory this weekend at Pebble Beach.
Mickelson, 47, shot a bogey-free 65 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club -- one of the three courses used in the tournament rotation -- to move into contention for his first victory since capturing The Open in 2013.
The 42-time PGA Tour winner would match Mark O'Meara with five victories in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am if he were to prevail. He is playing the tournament for the 22nd time.
Mickelson was trailing No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson by three strokes.
"I am having fun,'' said Mickelson, who finished 36 holes at 134, 9 under par. He will play Pebble Beach on Saturday, and after the 54-hole cut is made, all of the competitors play Pebble Beach on Sunday.
"This environment here, you have to embrace the fact that it's going to be a slow day, it's going to take a little while, but enjoy the people you're with. And I've got great partners, and it makes for a fun, special day, and this tournament is very unique. It's unique from what we have on tour, so enjoy it, enjoy the fact that we get to interact with some very special people.''
Mickelson's amateur partner is Jimmy Dunne III, senior managing principal for Sandler O'Neill & Partners, an investment banking firm in New York. Dunne is an avid golfer and a 3-handicap.
They are playing the first three rounds with Rory McIlroy and his father, Gerry. McIlroy shot his first over score in 10 rounds in 2018, a 3-over 74.
Mickelson, who last won at Pebble Beach in 2012 when he shot a final-round 64 and paired on the final day with Tiger Woods, found some form last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he was in contention and ended up tied for fifth.
After a slow start Thursday at Spyglass Hill -- he was 2 over par through 11 holes -- Mickelson has played his last 25 holes in 11 under par.
"I was expecting to play like this the first couple of weeks, so that was a little disappointing,'' said Mickelson, who missed the cut at the Career-Builder Challenge and tied for 45th at the Farmers Insurance Open. "But now the scores are starting to come out, I'm able to get out of the mechanics of it and just start playing the round and hitting shots. I'm very optimistic about this weekend and I'm optimistic about the year.''
Mickelson, who has been struggling off the tee at the start of the year, hit 9 of 13 fairways and 15 of 18 greens. Admittedly, he said, Monterey Peninsula is the easiest of the three courses.
"I think Pebble's a little bit tougher because the greens are a little firmer and smaller,'' he said. "But if you play well, you can birdie and score low on all three [courses]. I just love the feeling and the ambience of playing Pebble. I love being in the hunt playing that golf course, and I get to play two rounds now. It's fun.''