Open tune-up has Mickelson purring but Molinari leads the pack at Castle Stuart
16:52 GMT, 14 July 2012
Asking for a late invitation to the Scottish Open could turn out to be one of the best decisions of Phil Mickelson's career – even if he cannot catch Francesco Molinari in the final round.
Outside the top 120 after an opening 73 the American star, with one eye on the coming Open Championship, has charged all the way to joint fifth after adding a 65 to his 64 on Friday.
Among the players he moved past was world number one and defending champion Luke Donald, but he still trails Molinari by three.
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The Italian's 67 to reach 17 under par, one better than Dane Anders Hansen, keeps him on course to emulate the victory two years ago by his brother Edoardo.
It would be only the second time in European Tour history brothers have lifted the same title. Spaniards Antonio and German Garrido won the Madrid Open in in 1977 and 1973 respectively.
Scot Marc Warren and Dane Soren Kjeldsen are now joint third only two back. Playing together, they both shot 64 and now lead the battle for the one Open spot up for grabs at the tournament.
Last July Mickelson went from finishing only 58th at Castle Stuart to joint runner-up behind Darren Clarke at Sandwich, so no wonder he is so looking forward to what next weekend may now bring.
Leading the way: Francesco Molinari heads Anders Hansen by a shot
He has been trying to win The Open since 1991 – just as Clarke had been when he finally made it.
Eight days ago the 42-year-old was not even going to be in Inverness, but after a run of seven successive rounds over par and a missed cut at the Greenbrier Classic he decided to change plans.
'I should have had it planned out originally, but there was a chance to take the kids to Italy,' he said.
'I'm very pleased and excited. Given my three previous events it would have been asking a lot to get ready for Thursday (the start of The Open) if I hadn't played here.
'This course is so good at getting you ready for playing links golf. It does not beat you up so much.'
That is demonstrated by the scoring this week – with no significant wind yet the halfway cut fell at four under, only two off the Tour record.
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'I'll be trying to make a run at the lead, but more than that I feel like my game is starting to improve every day.
'Hopefully I'll have a good round and that will give me some momentum heading into next week as well.
'I'm excited about the (last two) scores because I haven't been playing at that level, even though I knew it wasn't that far off.'
He was slow off the blocks with a front nine 35, but then had six birdies coming home in 30.
Molinari was joint leader with Alex Noren at halfway and the matched each other hole-for-hole going to the turn in 32.
But then Molinari added a fifth birdie on the 10th and Noren hit his drive down the long 12th into the gorse on the right and ran up a triple bogey eight.