TWO PLAYERS FROM different ends of the spectrum each made Augusta National look vulnerable yesterday.
Now, Peter Hanson and Phil Mickelson will be paired together for the final round at the Masters.
Hanson, making only his second appearance at the year’s first major, shot 7-under 65 to take a one-shot lead over Mickelson, who put on a short-game clinic Saturday to land in good position for a fourth green jacket.
After his day of precise shot-making ended with an approach to near tap-in range on No. 18 for a birdie, Hanson finished at 9-under 207. Mickelson, meanwhile, shot 30 on the back — one shy of the course record — to close a round of 66 that left him at 8 under.
“I was just trying to do the boring stuff,” Hanson said. “Trying to hit every shot, put it in play off the tee, give myself a chance.”
And leave the excitement to Phil.
He delivered, never more than on the 15th hole, when he opened up his 64-degree wedge and took a full swing from the back of the green. The flop shot landed 4 feet away for a birdie that got him to 7 under.
“There was some risk in that one,” Mickelson said. To close the day, Mickelson posted a 3 on the par-4 18th — making him 3 for 3 in the birdie department there this week: Not a bad memory to fall back on should he have a chance to win it come closing time Sunday.
There are others in the mix after a crazy day at Augusta in which eight players had at least a share of the lead. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, played his third straight day of solid, under-the-radar golf and finished at 7 under. Bubba Watson finished at 6 under and Matt Kuchar was 5 under, while Hunter Mahan, Pádraig Harrington, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood were in a group at 4 under.
Phil Mickelson pumps his fist after a birdie putt on the 18th green. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Hanson, who plays most of his golf in Europe, has two top-five finishes in World Golf Championship events this season and received an exemption on the PGA Tour for the rest of the year if he wants it. His pairing with Mickelson will feel familiar. They were in the same threesome on Thursday and Friday, which Hanson spent going on and off the leaderboard and Mickelson spent trying to stay patient after a triple bogey on No. 10 in the first round put him in a hole.
The main visual from that day was Mickelson, the fan favorite, tromping around in the scrub with part of the gallery, well left of the 10th fairway. They were looking for a ball they never found.
“It’s Thursday,” Mickelson said when asked which day this week has been most important to this run. “Because at some point on this golf course, I’m going to get hot, make birdies, maybe an eagle here or there. At some point, I’m going to get on the leaderboard. Staying in it on Thursday allowed me to make a run.”
Hanson and Mickelson also squared off at the last Ryder Cup, when Mickelson beat Hanson 4 and 2 as part of Europe’s victory at Celtic Manor. This one’s for the green jacket — the prize Fred Couples slipped on 20 years ago this week.
Playing great at 52 years young, Couples slept on the lead Friday night, striped his first drive down the center of the fairway, then, in a nod to the cheering fans, turned to the gallery, 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. He finished at 2 under and doffed his cap to a crowd that still loves him. He’ll have one of the later tee times Sunday — probably not to contend for the title, but certainly with a top 10 in reach on the 20th anniversary of his crowd-pleasing win at Augusta.
Couples’ playing partner, Jason Dufner, also struggled and shot 75 to finish at 2 under. But no pairing had it worse than Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. They 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.
They were embracing again as they walked off the 18th green.
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?” McIlroy said in a joint TV interview with Garcia. “It’s good to have this guy by my side even if we didn’t play so well.”
Playing much earlier in the day 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, he was exactly where he started — 3-over par and needing the leaders to move backward over the remainder of the day. They didn’t and he’ll start Sunday from 12 out — the biggest deficit he’s faced at the Masters.
“I was so close to putting it together today,” Woods said.
Close, but still not quite there. 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.
- Eddie Pells, AP