Mickelson closes on Stadler with late birdie blitz

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SHANGHAI, Nov 9 (Reuters) American World number two Phil Mickelson sank four birdies over his last five holes to move within a shot of tournament leader Kevin Stadler after the second round of the Champions today.

Mickelson's late surge capped a blemish-free round of six-under-par 66 to leave him just behind compatriot Stadler, who fired an eagle in a steady 69 to reach 11-under par halfway through the 5 million dollar tournament.

''It was a good day today,'' said Mickelson, who had a disappointing Asian debut last week in Singapore.

''I struggled last week driving the golf ball and today and yesterday I drove it very well (so) I was able to play aggressive and try to make birdies.'' It was not until the 14th hole that Mickelson really started to take advantage of his improvement from the tee, trickling in his putt after his approach shot left him three feet from the hole.

The six-footer for his next birdie at the 16th was more impressive and he followed that with putts from 10 and four feet on the last two holes to put himself in excellent shape for the weekend.

''It was the first point in the round where I made some good putts, but I played a solid throughout and didn't make a bogey which was a good thing,'' he said.

Briton Ross Fisher snared a second 68 of the week to move into third alongside Thai-based Scot Simon Yates, whose 66 also put him on eight-under.

''I played really, really good,'' Yates said.

LAID BACK Three-times major champion Vijay Singh was pleased with his round of 70 and the Fijian will go into the final two rounds on seven-under in a share of fifth with South Africa's Andrew McLardy.

The laid-back Stadler's eagle three at the 16th was a small reminder of the opening round fireworks, when he and Sweden's Niclas Fasth matched the course record with 64s, and even a couple of bogeys could not spoil his mood.

''This has been great so far,'' Stadler, the son of 1982 US Masters champion Craig, said.

''I'm in the mindframe where I wouldn't have minded if I had a bad week. I just kind of came here to have fun.'' Stadler, who only secured his US PGA Tour card last weekend, went through the front nine in level par before a birdie at the 14th and the eagle two holes later cemented his lead.

''I think Kevin Stadler's going to be a tough guy to beat this weekend because he has the pressure off his shoulders after having kept his card in the US and he's playing very free and loose golf,'' Mickelson added.

Asian Tour order of merit leader Liang Wenchong had a ragged par 72 round to stay at three under but at least he remains in the field for the last two rounds, unlike six of the seven other Chinese who fell victim to the cut, set at five over par.

REUTERS TB RAI1716

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