Mickelson enjoys one magical Saturday


Golf:When Phil Mickelson won his first green jacket in 2004, it prompted a book called One Magical Sunday. In the third round of this 76th edition of the US Masters, the left-handed maestro was up to his old tricks again. Except, on this occasion, the man known as ‘Lefty’ had company as a magical Saturday conjured up a scene-setter that whetted just about everybody’s appetite for the final round showdown.

After the numbers were crunched in the third round, Sweden’s Peter Hanson – with razor-sharp approach play that set up birdie chance after birdie chance – claimed the 54-hole lead, after shooting a best-of-the-championship 65 for 207, nine-under-par, that gave him a one stroke lead over three-time champion Mickelson and two clear of Louis Oosthuizen.

Pádraig Harrington, too, contributed to the thrills. The 40-year-old Dubliner – who couldn’t buy a putt until he rolled in a 15-footer on the ninth – came from the fringes with a sensational back nine in which he birdied five of the last six holes. Harrington signed for a 68 to lie in tied-sixth alongside Hunter Mahan, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood heading into the final round.

For sure, it was a spine-tingling, chest-thumping kind of day with the players providing a feast of birdies. And, yet, the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the course was also evident. While Hanson, Mickelson and Co gave a masterclass, the flip side of the coin was exemplified by the fate that befell Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia who tumbled out of contention. McIlroy shot 42 on the front nine and eventually signed for a 77, for one-over-par 217.

Of their inability to get their rounds going, Garcia remarked: “We couldn’t feed off each others’ energy because there wasn’t any.”

Tiger Woods was another to suffer, as the four-time Masters champion struggled to a 72 – failing to birdie any of the four Par 5s – and lamented, “it was just one thing after another

. . . . I would just hit a couple of poor shots in a row and compound the problem with a bad shot in the wrong spot.”

Others, though, found energy. Lots of it. And Harrington – whose last Major title was claimed at the 2008 US PGA – was one of those who caught fire. He hit a birdie streak with four in a row from the 13th to the 16th and, then, after scrambling a good up-and-down par save on the 17th, finished in style with a five-iron approach to the last to 12 feet to close in style.

Harrington trails Hanson by five strokes going into the final round but has at least put himself into a position to contend. And he knows how to get the job done. When he won his first British Open at Carnoustie in 2007, he overcame a seven stroke deficit on Garcia. Why not now? “Nobody has won more Majors than I have in the last five years, so I kind of see this as cycles that you win some, you don’t win some and then you come back again.

“And if I don’t say I’m going to win some, who else is going to say it?

“It doesn’t matter whether it happens or not, I’d better believe it or nobody else is going to believe it. I might as well be positive,” he said.

Harrington knows as well as anyone that he has a lot of ground to make up, and that there are quality players in the mix ahead of him. Three Americans – Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar – and one South African, Oosthuizen, lied between Harrington and Hanson. It’s a tough ask, but he professed himself very happy with the overall state of his game. “I think it’s going forward big time at the moment, I don’t feel in any shape or form that I have maxed out this week. I feel well within myself.”

Of his game plan for the final round, where he has been paired with Stenson, Harrington said: “To be honest, the way I’m going to do it is to just play my game and not want it so much, not to be desperate or anything like that

. . . . just to know it’s going to happen.”

In just his second appearance in the Masters, European Ryder Cup player Hanson’s 65 started with a bogey at the first. It was to be his only slip-up as he produced eight birdies over the round including five in his last seven holes.

Mickelson – who’d opened on Thursday with a 74 – was mesmerising as he bounced back with a 66 that moved him to second place. Nobody was hotter with the putter than Mickelson, while his flop shot from off the green on the 16th to save par was one that perhaps no-one else in the game would contemplate, never mind pull off.

Yet, like everyone else, Mickelson is playing catch-up going into the final round. The man in front is in unfamiliar territory. “It’s a new situation to me. I’ve been up on the leaderboard a few times, but I’ve never led in anything like this,” said Hanson.

As McIlroy discovered a year ago, leading is all part of the learning process. Getting the job done is a different matter entirely.