NORTON — It has not been a sizzling summer for Phil Mickelson. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Sure, his season got off to a promising start when he won at Pebble Beach in February and finished tied for fourth in the Houston Open and T-3 at The Masters in April.
But once spring lapsed into summer, Mickelson has struggled to finish in the top 35. He withdrew from the Memorial after a first-round 79, finished T-65 at the US Open (16-over 296) , and missed the cut in his next two events — the Greenbrier Classic (2-over 142) and the British Open (11-over 151).
He wrapped up his 2012 major championship schedule with a T-36 at the PGA Championship. When the PGA Tour kicked off its playoffs last weekend at The Barclays, Mickelson finished T-38.
With the PGA season drawing to a close, the lefthander seemed determined to put his summertime woes behind him with some torrid golf in the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Norton.
Mickelson fashioned a 3-under 68 (33-35) to match his first-round number and remain in contention, six shots behind second-round leader Rory McIlroy.
“I thought that I played OK,’’ said Mickelson, who entered the tournament 17th in the FedEx Cup points standings. “I’ll have to get a hot round tomorrow to try to get into the final day.’’
Starting on the 10th hole Saturday, Mickelson was slow to warm up when he made par on his first two holes before making a birdie on the par-4 12th, hitting a 136-yard approach to within 10 feet to go to 4 under.
He wound up giving that stroke back — and then some — when he bogeyed the par-4 15th and the par-3 16th.
“I hit a poor drive on 15 in the trees, hit a second shot over the green, and hit a poor chip to 50 feet and just two-putted,’’ said Mickleson, who hit 14 of 18 greens and 6 of 14 fairways. “Then missed the green on 16 to the right, where it’s really a tough up-and-down today where the pin was. Hit a pretty good shot to about 12 feet and didn’t make it.’’
Mickelson’s fortunes took a turn for the better when he birdied 18 after chipping within 2 feet from the primary cut of rough left of the green on the 530-yard par-5.
“You’re going to make some bogeys out here,’’ said Mickelson, who offset three bogeys with six birdies, including three on his last six holes. “I ended up making a couple of birdies on the front nine and shooting 3 under.
“I thought that was a pretty good round today, given that we had an opposite wind, a lot of crosswinds, and I didn’t think it was playing that easy.’’
Swirling winds on the front side made Mickelson’s final nine holes a challenge, especially when it came to club selection. But he estimated his yardage correctly and chose his clubs wisely, especially when he reached for a 5-iron for his approach on No. 8 and stuffed it within a foot.
“Probably my best shot of the day,’’ he said.
It helped, too, that the greens were fairly receptive, helping Mickelson make 29 putts in the round, including 11 of 11 from inside 3 feet.
“It’s just that with the crosswind, it was difficult to get the proper distance control and get it close,’’ he said. “I know that if you’re striping it, you’re hitting some great shots and everything is solid, you can get it close and make some birdies.
“But if you miss it a little bit, the miss will be magnified.’’
Asked how it felt to be in position to heat things up on Labor Day weekend after a lukewarm summer, Mickelson said, “Yeah, it feels good. I know that I need a hot round tomorrow for a good chance on Monday’s final round, but the way I’m playing and the way I feel on the greens, I feel like I can do it.’’