PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Playing golf is supposed to be fun, right? Phil Mickelson thinks so, and he isn't about to let his critics ruin the good time.
Never willing to back down from a tough course, or a tough shot, Lefty let 'er rip Friday, using his aggressive, shot-styling game to wind up one shot off the lead at The Players Championship.
He completed a first round of 8-under-par 64 in the morning, then shot a 75 in the windblown second round to enter the weekend at 5 under. That's tied for second with New Zealand native Craig Perks, and just behind leaders Carl Paulson and Jeff Sluman.
Sluman returned to finish his second round Saturday morning. He gave himself three good birdie chances and made one of them -- a 15-foot putt on the island green, No. 17.
Sluman hit 6-iron to eight feet on the final hole, but his putt to take the outright lead swirled around the cup and out.
The cut was 2 over par, meaning the difference between top to bottom was a mere eight strokes.
"It's like a lot of other tournaments, where if you make the cut, you can win," Sluman said. "And that's no more apparent than here."
Among those not making it were Vijay Singh, 2000 champion Hal Sutton, Davis Love, Greg Norman and John Daly, who tossed his broken driver into the lake on the 14th hole Friday, much to the delight of his huge gallery.
In a field where seemingly everyone playing the weekend has a chance, Mickelson still stands out. He may have made the best shot of the tournament Friday on the ninth hole, at the close of his rain-delayed first round.
From 85 yards, on hard-packed sand, with a massive oak tree in his way, Mickelson spun a ball around the tree and onto the green, where it took a sharp left then skidded to an abrupt halt. It looked like the kind of shot that belonged on a cartoon strip, not a golf course.
But he pulled it off, then converted the putt for birdie to finish the 64, one stroke off the course record held by Fred Couples and Greg Norman.
To say nobody else could make such a shot might be overstating it. But how many others would try it -- especially in the first round of a grueling tournament, where playing it safe is the, well, safest option?
"I won't ever change my style," Mickelson said. "I get criticized for it, but the fact is, I play my best when I play aggressive, when I attack, when I create shots. That's what I enjoy about the game, that challenge."
Among those trying to dampen Mickelson's high-wire act is Paulson, who hasn't been concentrating on golf much this year.
The 31-year-old spent three days in the hospital overcoming viral meningitis in January. He took time off when his father underwent triple bypass surgery in February. This is the first time he's made the cut this season.
"It makes it a little more difficult, because I haven't had any experience playing on the weekend this year," he said. "I haven't gotten in the heat of battle. I'll have to see how that plays out. I feel good about my game. I've been working hard."
Other contenders include Perks, his countryman Michael Campbell (4 under) and Sluman.
Tiger Woods was one of 37 players within five strokes of the lead after a second round of 72.
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