By Andrew Both
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Veteran Phil Mickelson used his short game magic to claw his way within three strokes of clubhouse leader Andrew Loupe in the second round at the Wells Fargo Championship on Friday.
Mickelson, a five-times major champion who needs only to win the U.S. Open next month to complete the elusive career Grand Slam, hit only nine greens in regulation but used his vaunted touch around the greens to piece together a two-under-par 70.
He got up-and-down to save par on eight occasions, his lone bogey at Quail Hollow coming at his final hole, where he drove into a fairway bunker.
"I scrapped it around," said Mickelson, adding that poor driving, rather than suspect iron play, had put him in danger of dropping shots time and again.
"My short game was sharp. I hit a lot of good iron shots, but I had to play for par a little too many times because I didn't put it in play off the tee," he said.
"I've been driving the ball really well heading into this week, so I'm a little disappointed with the driver.
"I think I'll get that turned around for the weekend and, if so, the way I've been hitting my irons, I think it's going to be a good weekend."
Mickelson above all covets a U.S. Open championship and he is using this week as the start of his serious preparation for the June event at Oakmont outside Pittsburgh.
He is a record six-times Open runner-up, with several of those second-placings coming in heartbreaking fashion.
Loupe, who shared the first-round lead with fellow American Steve Wheatcroft, had a chance to build a substantial advantage, only to bogey two of his final three holes for a 71.
"It's halftime," said the long-hitting Loupe, who is without a win in 53 starts on the PGA Tour and understands a 36-hole lead counts for little.
He posted an eight-under 136 halfway total to lead compatriot Chesson Hadley (67) by two strokes with half the field back in the clubhouse.
Among the big names, Englishman Justin Rose (70) trailed by four strokes, with Australian Adam Scott (70) and South African Ernie Els (69) seven back.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy, who shot an opening 73, was among those with a late tee time.
American Zac Blair was disqualified in unusual circumstances for using a non-conforming club, in this case his putter.
Blair bent his putter when he banged it against his head in frustration after missing a putt at the fifth hole.
He putted out the hole before subsequently informing an official on the next hole of the situation.
He was disqualified for violating rule 4-3b, which states: "If, during a stipulate round, a player's club is damaged other than in the normal course of play rendering it non-conforming or changing its playing characteristics, the club subsequently must not be used or replaced during the round."
(Editing by Larry Fine)