The Goose flies high at Firestone, Tiger toils

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson stayed on track in his bid to become world number one for the first time while South African Retief Goosen grabbed a one-shot lead after the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Friday.

Top-ranked Tiger Woods again struggled with his driving, but Goosen was in good form off the tee and on the greens as he fired a four-under 66 in rain-softened, overcast conditions at Firestone Country Club.

Left-hander Mickelson, who would replace Woods as world number one with victory this week, recovered from a double-bogey at the 14th with two birdies in the last four holes to be snapping at Goosen's heels.

"I'm happy with the round," the 41-year-old Goosen said after totaling 26 putts and missing only three fairways off the tee.

"I've not done so well around this course in the past, so it's nice to play well for two rounds and see how I can do on the weekend."

First-round leader Bubba Watson carded a 71 to lie two strokes off the pace at five-under, level with fellow American Bo Van Pelt (68) and Swede Peter Hanson (66).

Australian Adam Scott (70), Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez (67) and Britain's Paul Casey (68) were among a group of six bunched at four-under.

Woods, champion here last year and seeking a record eighth victory at Firestone, hit only three of 14 fairways on the way to a 72 that left him a distant 13 shots off the pace, tied for 72nd in a field of 80.

The 14-times major winner, who has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since last year's BMW Championship, left the course without speaking to reporters after he had signed his card.

MICKELSON'S FORTUNE

Most eyes will follow Mickelson's fortunes over the weekend as he bids to knock Woods from his top-ranked perch.

Victory here would do the trick or even a top-four finish if Woods places outside the top 37.

"Obviously it would be cool," Mickelson said. "It would be something I would love to do, ultimately being regarded as number one according to the rankings.

"And I know that I've got a great opportunity this week. I know that I'm playing well, and this is my best opportunity."

Goosen, in an upbeat mood after flourishing on the tight, tree-lined layout, said his sole regret was a bogey five at the last where he followed a perfect drive with a poor approach.

"I just had an eight-iron to the green and pulled it, then hit a poor chip and a good putt that didn't go in," the double U.S. Open winner said.

"Every part of your game needs to be good here, driving especially. You need to hit it on the fairway, otherwise you're struggling. The difference is I'm putting pretty well and today I drove it a bit better."

Goosen has not won on the PGA Tour since last year's Tampa Bay Championship but has produced good form this season with seven top-10s in 13 starts.

"I've been playing quite consistent ... I've just not been winning," he said. "This would be a great event to get my first win for the year."

(Editing by Ken Ferris/Ian Ransom)