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Mickelson surges into contention

Phil Mickelson was back to his brilliant unpredictable best as he charged into contention for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Saturday.

Open champion Mickelson made the halfway cut with just one shot to spare after rounds of 73 and 70, the five-time major winner failing to record a single birdie on the opening day.

But the left-hander insisted on Friday he had "a good, low round in me tomorrow" and was as good as his word, carding a sparkling 63 which vaulted him from joint 43rd into the lead on 10 under par.

Mickelson birdied the first, second and fourth at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and after dropping a shot on the fifth, bounced straight back with a birdie on the next.

An eagle on the par-five eighth took the 43-year-old to the turn in 31 and further birdies on the 10th, 11th and 13th meant the 43-year-old even had an outside chance of shooting the first ever 59 on the European Tour.

That chance effectively disappeared with a bogey on the 14th, but Mickelson bounced back with a birdie on the next and another on the last was conjured up in typical fashion.

Despite finding a fairway bunker from the tee, Mickelson attempted to reach the green on the 562-yard par five in two, but carved his approach into the sandy waste area left of the fairway.

However, from 98 yards he demonstrated his renowned short-game prowess, hitting a low pitch under the branches of a palm tree and onto the green, holing the putt from around 30 feet.

"It was not a smart decision out of the bunker to go for the green, but I don't know, that's just what I do," Mickelson joked. "Bones (his caddie Jim Mackay) did not like the decision and I don't blame him. It wasn't probably my smartest play.

"I hit a terrible shot but because it was sitting on a fairly hard, packed lie, I was able to go in steep and keep it low underneath the trees and I had plenty of green to work with.

"I will still be back a few shots I anticipate heading into tomorrow's round, but I love the fact that I'm in contention and I have an opportunity (to win) here in the first week of the year."

Overnight leaders Craig Lee and Rafael Cabrera-Bello began their rounds with three straight pars to remain nine under, one ahead of former world number one Rory McIlroy.

Mickelson had praised McIlroy's driving as "impeccable" after partnering the Northern Irishman for the first two days, but it was a long putt on the third which was responsible for McIlroy's first birdie of the day.

McIlroy, who missed the cut here 12 months ago in his first tournament following his multi-million pound switch to Nike, picked up further shots at the seventh and eighth to join Mickelson on 10 under.

However, Lee was not about to allow the two star attractions to have it all their own way, birdies on the sixth and seventh taking the 36-year-old from Stirling into the lead on 11 under.

Lee's best finish on the European Tour came when he lost a play-off to Thomas Bjorn for the Omega European Masters last September, and a repeat clash remained a possibility with Bjorn moving to 10 under thanks to birdies on the second, seventh and eighth.

Lee briefly dropped back into a share of the lead when he bogeyed the ninth, but birdies from close range at the 10th and 13th took him two shots clear of the field on 12 under.

McIlroy had been unable to find any birdies on the back nine and remained 10 under with two holes to play, while India's Gaganjeet Bhullar was safely in the clubhouse on the same score after a flawless 66.

McIlroy birdied the 18th to complete a 68 and seemingly finish 11 under par, one shot behind Lee who had compiled a 69.

However it then emerged that a drop McIlroy had taken from a spectator crossing on the second hole had been questioned and was under scrutiny.

It was brought to light before McIlroy signed his card and the former world number one and European Tour chief referee John Paramor went back out to the scene of the incident in an attempt to resolve the issue.

After looking at the area from where McIlroy had played his shot, it was determined that his left foot would have been on the white line denoting the crossing.

That meant he had not taken full relief and a two-shot penalty was applied to his score, turning a par into a double bogey and a 68 into a 70. At nine under overall, he now trails Lee by three shots heading into the final round.

"I'm going to go and hit the gym so hard," a clearly frustrated McIlroy said. "I'm going to run myself into the ground to try to get some of the frustration out.

"There are a lot of stupid rules in golf and this is one of them."