PHOENIX (AP) — The largest, most boisterous crowds at Phoenix Country Club followed Phil Mickelson, roaring with approval whenever Lefty knocked one close, groaning when he made a mistake.
Kirk Triplett drowned out the noise and kept his focus, calmly pouring in one birdie after another.
In the group ahead, Jim Furyk played with his usual steadiness to remain in the hunt for the Schwab Cup.
Enjoying the large crowds, Triplett shot a 7-under 64 to move into the lead Friday and Furyk kept himself in contention for the season title with a 67 in the second round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
“On 6 or 7, I said, ‘Thank you,’” Triplett said. “He said, ‘For what?’ I said, ‘Thanks for bringing all these people out.’ We get nice crowds here at Phoenix every year, but we’ve got more people than we usually do and he’s the reason.”
Tied for the lead with Furyk and Mickelson after the first round, Triplett finished with seven birdies and no bogeys to reach 13 under, two ahead of recent qualifier Steven Alker, who shot a 65.
Furyk, who can win the season-long PGA Tour Champions Schwab Cup points race with a victory this weekend, is tied with Mickelson at 10 under after reeling off six birdies. Mickelson finished off a 67 with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th hole.
“I’m excited about the weekend and trying to win a golf tournament and then trying to put myself in position for the Schwab Cup,” Furyk said.
Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer struggled with a balky back for the second straight day, hitting into three penalty areas for a 72. He was 11 shots back at 2 under, but still can win his sixth series title.
Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els were well back in their bids to win the Schwab Cup Championship and the series title. Jimenez is at 6 under after a 66 and Els shot 73 to finish at 1 under.
They’re all chasing Triplett, who enjoyed playing with Mickelson for the first time in about 15 years.
Triplett started his opening-round 65 with a pair of birdies and had four in his first six holes to start the second. He had three birdies in four holes starting at No. 11 and posted his low round of the wraparound season despite finishing with a par on the reachable par-5 18th.
Not a bad start for a player who had to fight just to get into the season finale.
“I’ve been the guy on the bubble, No. 36, for at least a month,” Triplett said. “I’ve been playing like I’m winning every single week, like every shot matters. I think that probably has something to do with my good play these last two days.”
Langer battled through intense back pain and needed caddie Terry Holt to retrieve his ball from the hole during an opening-round 68 that put him three off the lead. The 64-year-old German was moving a little better in the second round, though still a little stiff anytime he bent down.
Langer was feeling good enough that he and Els cracked a smile when Holt said “No, I’ll get it” after Langer tapped in for par on No. 9. There were no smiles when Langer took consecutive double bogeys after hitting out of bounds on the par-4 14th and into the water on the par-3 15th.
Langer still has a good chance at winning the Schwab Cup for the fifth time in seven years — if he can get his back healthy and play well on the weekend.
“My doctor said I can’t do any harm, I can’t hurt my back, so it’s just going to be painful for a number of days,” Langer said. “It’s all whether you can withstand the pain or not. So right now I’m just grinding through. I might still be in pain tomorrow, hopefully less again and that would be great.”
Alker has been on quite a run.
The New Zealander had no status when he turned 50 in July before qualifying for the Boeing Classic in August. He had top-10 finishes every week to keep playing and become eligible for the postseason, which included a win last weekend at the TimberTech Championship in Florida.
Alker followed up an opening-round 66 by shooting a 6-under 30 on the front nine and overcame two bogeys with a pair of finishing birdies.
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