Mickelson continues love affair with New York

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Tiger Woods might still be the No. 1 player in the world.

But it's clear that Phil Mickelson is No. 1 in the hearts of golf fans.

Woods certainly draws huge crowds and raucous ovations wherever he goes and he's still the biggest draw in golf. He's doing so this week at the U.S. Open.

But with Mickelson it's different. While the galleries might be in awe of Woods, it seems like they are truly in love with Lefty, who shot 66 on Friday to get to 6-under.

For his part, Mickelson seems to return that feeling. A smile hasn't left his face since he arrived at Shinnecock Hills to try to add a U.S. Open trophy to the green jacket he already wears as this year's Masters champion.

From a spot near the clubhouse, looking down across the golf course, the admiration for Mickelson was unmistakable as he made his way from No. 17 to No. 18 Friday. A sea of people moved from the 16th hole, not wanting to miss a single shot or a chance to cheer.

"He's just so loved," said Mickelson's swing coach Rick Smith after watching him tap in on No. 18 for a 66 and the U.S. Open lead. "At Bethpage [in 2002] it made the hair on your back stand up and he really fed off it. People have really gravitated towards him."

Mickelson has long been compared to Arnold Palmer in his style of play and everyman approach to golf. That comparison is even more apt when you put it alongside Palmer's rivalry with Jack Nicklaus. Like Woods, Nicklaus was clearly the best player of his time and his talent was revered. But Nicklaus never received the kind of blind adoration that followed Palmer everywhere he went.

Where the comparisons to Palmer came to a screeching halt, however, was major championships. But since Augusta, that's all changed and with it a weight has been lifted off Mickelson's shoulders and the level of support for him seems to have reached an all-time high.

The fans at Shinnecock might not be as rowdy and boisterous as the group that shook Bethpage. But they're pulling for him every bit as much.

"It's amazing to see that they love him so much," said Kirk Triplett, who shot 71-70 playing with Mickelson the first two days. "It's really heartfelt. New York fans are interactive and they want to get involved. It sounded like Yankee Stadium and I was the right fielder for the Red Sox. Except the fans were being nice to me."

What the fans got involved with Friday was a great round from a golfer in complete control of his game.

"That's the way we all strive to play golf," said Triplett after watching Mickelson hit 14 of 18 fairways and 15 of 18 greens.

"It's really exciting to watch," said Smith. "What a round of golf that was."

For his part, Mickelson knows the fans here are behind him. As huge as the ovation was that he received at No. 18 on Friday, it will be deafening Sunday if he's walking toward his second major.

"It's a great feeling to play here in New York," said Mickelson. "Walking up the 18th hole here at Shinnecock, I can't imagine what Corey Pavin had in '95, to have that amphitheater effect and have that type of ovation, it's just a great feeling."

It's a feeling Mickelson and most of those in the gallery are hoping repeats itself Sunday at Shinnecock.

Peter Lawrence-Riddell is an editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at peter.lawrence-riddell@espn3.com.