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Kevin Stadler shoots 69, leads Mickelson by one

11/9/2007 - Golf Kevin Stadler

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."