PHIL MICKELSON PLAYED the waiting game for a while, then delivered a Masters short-game clinic to grab a share of the lead on a wild Saturday at Augusta National.
After opening his third round with nine straight pars, Mickelson dropped in 20-foot putts for birdie and eagle on 12 and 13 and took a full swing from just behind the 15th green for a delicate flop shot that led to another birdie. It helped him reach 7-under par for the tournament, tied for the lead with Peter Hanson and Louis Oosthuizen.
Matt Kuchar and Henrik Stenson were two shots back, tied at 5-under par. Another stroke behind and in the clubhouse were Hunter Mahan and Pádraig Harrington. Harrington made five birdies on the back nine to reach 4 under.
Bubba Watson was also at 4 under and playing the back nine.
In search of his fourth green jacket, Mickelson had been lingering behind the pack for the first 45 holes of this tournament, thanks in part to the triple-bogey he made on No. 10 on Thursday that had him walking with fans among the scrub left of the fairway, looking for a ball he never found.
He knew there was plenty of time left and has slowly been working his way back into the hunt — in as good position as any on a day in which he looked up to the leaderboard and saw nobody in the top nine who has won a single green jacket, let alone three.
Tied for 10th is Freddie Couples, who slept on the lead, striped his first drive down the center of the fairway, then, in a nod to the cheering fans, shrugged and said: “However long it lasts.”
Answer: not long.
He played the first five holes at 4 over before steadying himself with two birdies to get to 3 under, still trying to stay in the hunt on the 20th anniversary of his crowd-pleasing win at Augusta.
Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia came into the day a shot off the lead, but neither broke 40 on the front side.
Not waiting for a Sunday to melt down, McIlroy shot 42; Garcia shot 40. It was a terrible twosome and when both players made birdies on No. 12 to stop some of the bleeding, they jokingly hugged as they headed off the green.
Long gone by then was Tiger Woods, who began his round hoping to make up at least some part of an eight-shot deficit. After an even-par round in which he couldn’t control his swing and chunked his driver and took a divot out of the 13th tee box, he was exactly where he started — 3-over par and needing the leaders to move backward over the remainder of the day.
“I was so close to putting it together today,” Woods said.
For the second straight day, and only the fourth time in his career at the Masters, he played all four par-5s without making an eagle or birdie. He is 1-under on the par 5s for the tournament — a statistic that gets you nowhere at Augusta National.
Mickelson, meanwhile, was leading the field with only 74 putts over his first 51 holes.