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Friday, November 9, 2007
Kevin Stadler shoots 69, leads Mickelson by one

Associated Press

SHANGHAI, China -- Phil Mickelson and his family have taken excursions to Beijing, climbed the Great Wall of China and strolled through the Forbidden City. He and his wife, Amy, dined at a French restaurant in Shanghai's swanky Bund area and even treated their children to a Chinese-style circus.

Now some serious golf beckons, which Mickelson has struggled to produce in a two-week swing through Singapore and Shanghai. It's his first such foray, a change for a guy who has been a reluctant international traveler.

Mickelson made four birdies on the last five holes of the HSBC Champions tournament Friday, carving out a 6-under 66 to trail fellow American Kevin Stadler by one stroke. They'll be paired together in the final twosome for Saturday's third round.

"My kids are old enough now to appreciate new cultures, new countries and I've decided to go to Asia because they can travel with me," Mickelson said. "We've been able to go to Singapore and Shanghai and see some incredible things."

With Tiger Woods absent, the two-time Masters champion is the crowd favorite in the $5 million tournament, Asia's richest.

Stadler shot 69 -- following an opening-round 64 -- at the Sheshan Golf Club on the outskirts of Shanghai. Englishman Ross Fisher (68) and Simon Yates (66) of Scotland were three behind. Vijay Singh trailed by four after a 70, but other high-profile players were far off the pace.

Unlike Mickelson, Stadler came to China with few expectations. He was even prepared to have a bad week. What mattered was being free of the pressure of the U.S. tour, where he's struggled to find his niche.

"I just kind of came here to have fun," said Stadler, who saved his card Sunday -- the final day of the season. He needed to finish in the top 125 on the money list, and ended up at No. 124.

"I came here to enjoy the whole experience, not really, not really taking it all that seriously," he said, pausing to rephrase his reply. "That doesn't sound right. I don't know how to word this properly. More relaxed."

Stadler seems comfortable everywhere except the U.S. tour. He's had two strong seasons on the Nationwide Tour -- the level just below the U.S. tour -- and his biggest win came in 2006 in Australia.

"I'm definitely more comfortable now than I am over there (U.S. tour)," he said. "I don't know why that is. I do enjoy myself when I'm out of the country. I don't know what the reason is for that, but I definitely feel more at ease when I'm playing over here."

The son of 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler, the younger Stadler said the famous name has not brought pressure. However, he said it might have raised expectations and caused him to press.

"I think I have expected too much out of myself on tour and I think I probably put a little more pressure on myself than I should," he said.

Unlike Mickelson, many of the world's other top-ranked players struggled Friday in the first European tour event of 2008 season -- which strangely begins in 2007.

British Open champion Padraig Harrington and U.S. Open winner Angel Cabrera each shot 72. So did Sergio Garcia. Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen shot 74, Ernie Els had a 75, and Colin Montgomerie slipped to 78.

"The competition over here is phenomenal," Stadler said. "This field here is every bit as good as it is every week in the States."

Mickelson has played before with Stadler and watched him years ago as an amateur.

"I think Kevin is going to be a tough guy to beat this weekend because he has the pressure off his shoulders having kept his card in the U.S. He's playing very free and loose golf."

Being in contention in Shanghai makes up for Mickelson's poor play last week in the Singapore Open, where he finished 16 shots behind winner Angel Cabrera.

He birdied four of the last five holes on Friday, negotiating a difficult wind and thick Bermuda rough that made the 7,199-yard course more testing than Thursday -- a sunny, still day.

Mickelson ran in a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 14, dropped another from 10 feet at 16. On a roll, he birdied from 25 feet on 17 and had a 4-footer on 18.

"I like the golf course a lot," Mickelson said. "It's very similar to what we see on tour in the U.S. The greens are putting beautifully. If you read them well you are going to make a lot of putts."