By Brian Keogh
Phil Mickelson took a giant step towards justifying his massive $1 million appearance fee at the HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai.
The left-hander and world No 2 birdied three of the last four holes for an amazing six under par 66 to trail surprise leader Kevin Stadler by a shot.
With a top prize this week of $833,330, Mickelson could make a fortune on one of his rare appearances outside the US.
As Stadler posted a 69 to lead on 11 under par, Mickelson blasted six birdies in an error free round with three in a row to finish.
Padraig Harrington started the day tied with Mickelson on four under but remained there after a level par 72 in windy conditions.
Like Mickelson, Harrington has also been cashing in on his status as a major winner.
His appearance in the Hassan II Trophy in Morocco three weeks ago is believed to have cost the organisers a high six figure sum while he is also set to do well out of this week's event and his defence of the Dunlop Phoenix title in Japan next week.
But he could get no momentum erasing birdies at the par five second and 14th with bogeys at the eighth and 11th to trail Stadler by seven shots in a share of 13th with Angel Cabrera, Brett Rumford and Richard Sterne
Mickelson was pleased to find top gear after struggling to share 23rd on another lucrative appearance in Singapore last week.
He said: "I struggled last week driving the golf ball and today and yesterday I drove it very well and I was able to play aggressive and try to make birdies.
"It was a good day today. It started off very windy but towards the end though it seemed to calm down a little bit and it was nice to finish with a couple of birdies.
"I made a few putts coming in and that feels good heading into the weekend. I’m certainly excited because I have put together two good rounds.
"I like the golf course a lot and the greens are putting beautifully. If you read them well, you are going to make a lot of putts."
Mickelson will partner his fellow countryman Stadler, 27, who is the son of 1982 Masters Tournament winner Craig.
He said: "I’ve played with Kevin's dad in the past but I’ve also played with Kevin before too. Actually my brother is a golf coach and he coached some tournaments that Kevin played in which I came out to and so I happened to see him play as an amateur.
"So it is neat for me to see him develop. He played great last week to keep his card on the PGA Tour and now he is playing with the weight off his shoulders and he’s going to be very tough to beat this weekend."
After opening 64-69, Stadler is feeling good about his chances and not nervous about the prospect of taking on Mickelson.
He said: ""I’m not really a very nervous person in general, I just like to think I’m laid back and just kind of go along with it.
"I’m sure if this position holds up I’ll get a little jittery over the weekend but as of right now, I feel great."
One under through 15 holes, he chipped in from 20 feet for an eagle two at the 288 yard 16th and the made a birdie four at the 18th to top the leaderboard.
England's Ross Fisher carded a second consecutive 68 to share third place on eight under with Asian based Scot Simon Yates who posted a second round 66.
Vijay Singh and Andrew McLardy are a shot further back on seven under with Paul Casey and Niclas Fasth in a six-man group on five under.
Ernie Els, who played in Singapore last week to collect appearance money rather than battle for the Order of Merit in Valderrama, is 11 shots behind Stadler on level par after a 69.
Colin Montgomerie took a double bogey seven at the last for a 78 to miss first the cut in the history of the event by two shots on seven over.
Trevor Immelman and Richard Green also missed out - Aussie Green finishing with a triple bogey at the par three 17th and a double at the last.