LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A freshening wind blew across Valhalla Golf Club yesterday, brightening the PGA Championship considerably, sweeping a couple of golf's shining new faces to ++ the top of the leader board and setting up a wild weekend in the season's final major.
Phil Mickelson, 26, opened a commanding lead in his effort to win his first major championship. His second straight round of 67 put him at 10-under par and three strokes ahead of 24-year-old Justin Leonard. Leonard's 66 was a course record, and his 7-under total of 137 brought him well within range of his second career victory in two weeks.
Neither Mickelson nor Leonard has a major, but they have a history.
Earlier this year at the Phoenix Open they went head-to-head in the most memorable duel of the year, a struggle won on the third extra hole with a birdie by Mickelson.
"As far as facing Phil again, I'd love to," said Leonard, who had his first professional victory last week in the Buick Open. "The only way to get better is to go out and face the best, and he's certainly one of the best."
Mickelson and Leonard are perhaps the best young players in the game. Their youth served them well yesterday, when they had to arise at 5 a.m. to come out to Valhalla and finish their rain-shortened rounds. Mickelson played seven holes yesterday morning, finishing with a 67.
Leonard played a total of 28 holes yesterday, restarting his first round on the ninth tee.
But if we are to have a reprise of that duel of the young'uns in the Valley of the Sun, there are a few other obstacles to overcome. Among them are Vijay Singh, Mark Brooks and Kenny Perry, who are tied at 6-under, four strokes back. At 5-under are Lee Janzen and Nick Price.
Mickelson, a three-time winner this year, has had his opportunities in major championships but hasn't been able to pull it off. His most recent flirtation with a major was at last year's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he started the final round one stroke off the lead but shot 74 and wound up tied for fourth.
But Mickelson is now rolling the ball better than he has all year, thanks to a brief lesson last week -- the first putting lesson of his career -- from Rick Smith.
"I just wasn't pleased with my performance in the two previous majors," Mickelson said. "I hit the ball very well, played very well tee to green, but putted horribly."
Mickelson closed out his round with three straight one-putts.
Nick Faldo, who struggled to a round of 75 after opening with 69, made the cut but probably missed the chance to become the first player since Price in 1994 to win two majors in one year.
Pub Date: 8/10/96