By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LA QUINTA, California (Reuters) - With his flu all but gone, Phil Mickelson had much more of a bounce in his step after an improved putting performance helped him shoot a five-under-par 67 in Friday's second round at the Humana Challenge.
Mickelson is eager to build momentum on the PGA Tour's West Coast swing as he prepares for the Masters, the opening major of the year, and he was delighted to shake off some pre-season rust on another glorious late winter's day in the California desert.
"I feel much better," the American left-hander, who has been battling flu-like symptoms for nearly two weeks, told reporters after totaling only 26 putts in a seven-birdie display on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West.
"I was excited to get out and play. I thought that this was a great day to go low. I left a few shots out there, but the last couple of holes were very encouraging to me. They were the first time that my rhythm kind of set in."
Tournament champion in 2002 and 2004, Mickelson had struggled on the greens on the way to a roller-coaster 72 on the La Quinta layout in the opening round as he launched his 2013 PGA Tour season.
On Friday, he felt much happier with his putting before ending a sun-drenched day in the Coachella Valley nine strokes behind pacesetting Americans Roberto Castro and James Hahn.
"I hit a lot more solid putts and feel really good with the putter, even though I had a few that didn't go in," Mickelson said after improving on his 30-putt tally on Thursday.
"I hit them very solid, where I wanted to and gave them chances and that's been kind of the goal. I expect to play a good round tomorrow and get some momentum."
The three-times Masters champion is scheduled to play his final two rounds of the tournament on the Palmer Private layout, in his mind an ideal finish.
"I like that golf course," Mickelson said. "You get a hot putter you can shoot, seven, eight or nine under there."
Asked if he was planning to do anything different as he gears up for the Apr. 11-14 Masters at Augusta National and the other majors to follow, he replied: "Those are a ways away.
"I really want to build some momentum here on the West Coast heading into those tournaments. You don't want to go into those having not had some success, having not been in contention, having not had opportunities to win.
"The pressure of winning a Masters will overcome that, will get the better of you, if you're not used to it and feeling confident, so it's important to get a good West Coast start."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by John O'Brien)