INVERNESS, Scotland -- Phil Mickelson broke out of one of the worst slumps of his illustrious career by shooting a blemish-free 64 at the Scottish Open on Friday, leaving the American five shots off the second-round lead shared by
Noren's second straight round of 6 under 66 saw him move to 12 under alongside Molinari, who couldn't match his blistering 62 from Thursday but still kept his momentum going with a 70.
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However, it was Mickelson's morning charge up the leaderboard that had tongues wagging at the overcast but largely wind-free Castle Stuart links.
The three-time Masters champion broke par for the first time since May to easily make the cut, an eagle and six birdies putting him in a strong position for the weekend and improving his confidence before next week's British Open.
"We've had perfect weather and the golf course was there for the taking," said Mickelson, who struggled to a 73 on Thursday after cutting short his family holiday in Italy to play in the tournament. "It's very helpful to see my game progress so quickly.
"I think the more I play, the better it gets. It's not to the level that I would like, yet, but I get closer each day."
His classy round of 8 under matched the lowest of the day - along with
"It was very stress-free," said Donald, who birdied the last two holes. "It was a nice finish and I'm only three back. You've got to stay patient and you've got to know that this course does offer some opportunities, especially in reasonably benign conditions."
The cut was 4 under -- two shots off the lowest ever on the European Tour -- and left former winners Colin Montgomerie and
Mickelson made the ideal start in still conditions by chipping in for eagle with his lob wedge from 60 yards at his first hole. Driving long and straight and making 16 greens in regulation, he gave himself plenty of birdie chances.
For a player who missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic last week, tied for 65th at the U.S. Open and withdrew after a first-round 79 at the Memorial Tournament in his last three events, it was a massive improvement.
"To have a good, consistent 18 holes of golf was a nice breakthrough and it gives me a chance on the weekend to try to do the same," Mickelson said.
The 89th-ranked Noren carried his 30th birthday celebrations over from Thursday by making six birdies and an eagle.
The performance put the Swede in with a great chance of claiming the $645,000 first prize the day after his girlfriend, Emelie Lind, won a women's tour event in Norway. She earned $8,560 for that victory.
"She sent me flowers for my birthday," said Noren, who was seen sipping champagne after his round on Thursday in the players' lounge.
After a final-round 64 at the French Open and then his tournament record-equalling 62 here on Thursday, Molinari came back down to earth. He still has a share of the lead as he looks to emulate his brother, Edoardo, who won the Scottish Open in 2010.
"I knew it was going to be hard following up yesterday," the Italian said. "I knew it wasn't going to last forever."
The 19-year-old Manassero, who dined at the same Italian restaurant with compatriot Molinari on Thursday before sharing ice creams in McDonalds later that night, powered up the leaderboard with a barrage of seven birdies on his back nine.
He needs a top-five finish to have a chance of capturing the one remaining place on offer for the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
"I was feeling as I wish I would feel every day," said Manassero, whose late charge came just as the wind picked up in the late afternoon.
The strangest incident of another low-scoring day in the Scottish Highlands came when a tee shot from Gonzalez rolled into an open packet of salt and vinegar crisps on the par-4 seventh hole. After taking a drop, he went on to make his first birdie and added six more.
Peter Whiteford made the second hole in one of the tournament after acing the 11th but missed out on the prize of 168 bottles of champagne -- one for each yard of the hole -- because Andrew Johnston of England achieved the feat on Thursday.