Mickelson awaits as McIlroy falls apart
Home favourite looks poised to pose in fourth Green Jacket after young pretender finds demons chasing him around the National course again
The demons arrived a day early for Rory McIlroy in Georgia. But for Phil Mickelson the Masters remains his personal heaven.
Peter Hanson has the onerous mission of denying America's favourite left-hander today. The Swede – a Ryder Cup player in name, but a vastly underrated ball-striker – shot a best-of-the-week 65 to stand at nine-under, but his remarkable figures sunk into the footnotes when put alongside Mickelson's heroics on this most famous of back nines.
The National and Mickelson are made for each other and he provided emphatic proof with an inward 30. The birdie on the last for a 66 was vintage Phil – and vintage Augusta as well. Seemingly with a big ask to make his par, Mickelson somehow turned it over and coerced it up to the top level of the green.
The 12-foot putt located the hole – of course it did – and the cheers resounded as loudly as they ever have on a Saturday here. It would take a fool, or maybe a Scandinavian, not to believe a fourth Green Jacket in nine years is not on order.
Think of that: four in nine. That matches the percentage return of Tiger Woods in his pomp. What were they all saying about the "Rory and Tiger Show"? It barely makes it on to golf's lunchtime schedule when Mickelson, the great entertainer, is in primetime.
What a frenetic day it was. Never mind moving day, there are quantum physicists who would have been stunned by the speed of its comings and goings. Augusta truly writes its own script, turning hero into victim and back again in the flash of a few irons. Who would have thought, for instance, that McIlroy, the boy whose final-round 80 last year touched so many hearts, would be back playing to the tune of violins?
Granted, this 77 was nowhere near as dramatic as his very public tear-show of 12 months ago; but it did qualify as a major-wrecker. He is 10 behind, with 26 players in front.
McIlroy double-bogeyed the first, as he did on the first day, when he was denied a drop in the squelchy stuff over the back by a referee. Last year, it was the back nine that did the snaring; this time the Augusta trap snapped shut early.
McIlroy was six-over for the front half – a 43 – and although he held it together valiantly enough on the back nine to stick at two-over, the damage was done. The sight of him hugging Sergio Garcia, another casualty with a 75, to celebrate his birdie following the Ulsterman's birdie on the 12th said it all. It was a ray of sunshine in a morass of gloom.
The achievement of Hanson should not be undervalued, however tempting it was to look at Mickelson and see him reclad in rich green. He bogeyed the first, but from there was simply magnificent, his putter combining with his usual precision of wood and iron to conjure eight birdies in 17 holes. Hanson stiffed it at the last with a shot which summed up his consummate control. On another day his spectacular progress would have been enough to have people talking about the possibility of Sweden's first major. Mickelson ensured, however, that the narrative focused on his love affair with the course which has an inexhaustible desire for drama.
Where to start with the fireworks let off by the Californian, who began with a highly mediocre 74? Maybe with the wood on the second through a pair of trees which might as well have been hugging. After taking a penalty, a bogey appeared inevitable. To anyone but him it did. That magic through the pines, and then a chip and a putt rescued him the par. The stage was set, although Mickelson took his time to storm to the centre.
Birdie on the 10th, birdie on the 12th, then an eagle on the 13th courtesy of a 30-foot putt. It was that par five where he played that wonder shot, again through a pair of rain-sharing pines, which did for Lee Westwood two years ago. Two holes later the wand was out again, although this time it was a trademark flop on to the 15th green which led to a birdie.
By the time Mickelson was receiving his ovation, Tiger Woods was tucked up in bed. His 72 was hardly what he expected as he dug deep for a rousing charge from three-over. He is 12 behind and more concerned about his PR image. He felt obliged to apologise for the swearing and club-throwing. Respect for doing so, but the golf won't be so easily fixed.
Woods will not be a part of the final-day party which could yet include a few more European Tour favourites than Hanson. One behind Mickelson in third stands the 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen after his 69, and Bubba Watson on six-under is another left-handed American who will have his backers. Westwood fought his ever-disobedient putter for a level-par 72 to allow himself a faint sniff. Padraig Harrington finished with five birdies in the last six holes to nudge himself into the picture for a fourth major. His late rally shows what is possible in the dénouement of this supreme golfing amphitheatre. Mickelson, however, will sense this better than anyone.
Peter Hanson (Swe) 68 74 65
Phil Mickelson (US) 74 68 66
Luis Oosthuizen (SA) 68 72 69
Bubba Watson (US) 69 71 70
Matt Kuchar (US) 71 70 70
Hunter Mahan (US) 72 72 68
Henrik Stenson (Swe) 71 71 70
Padraig Harrington (Irl) 71 73 68
Lee Westwood (GB) 67 73 72
Paul Lawrie (GB) 69 72 72
Nick Watney (US) 71 71 72
Francesco Molinari (It) 69 75 70
Fredrik Jacobson (Swe) 76 68 70
Sean O'Hair (US) 73 70 71
Ian Poulter (GB 72 72 70
Ben Crane (US) 69 73 72
Jason Dufner (US) 69 70 75
Fred Couples (US) 72 67 75
Jim Furyk (US) 70 73 72
Bae Sang-moon (S Kor) 75 71 69
Jonathan Byrd (US) 72 71 72
Brandt Snedeker (US) 72 75 68
Sergio Garcia (Sp) 72 68 75
Justin Rose (GB) 72 72 72
Webb Simpson (US) 72 74 70
Charles Howell III (US) 72 70 74
Hideki Matsuyama* (Japan) 71 74 72
Scott Stallings (US) 70 77 70
Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 74 72 71
Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp) 69 72 76
Rory McIlroy (GB) 71 69 77
Kevin Na (US) 71 75 72
Adam Scott (Aus) 75 70 73
Graeme McDowell (GB) 75 72 71
Kevin Chappell (US) 71 76 71
Y E Yang (S Kor) 73 70 75
Vijay Singh (Fiji) 70 72 76
Aaron Baddeley (Aus) 71 71 77
Tiger Woods (US) 72 75 72
Zach Johnson 70 74 75
Steve Stricker (US) 71 77 72
Angel Cabrera (Arg) 71 78 71
Rickie Fowler (US) 74 74 72
David Toms ( US) 73 73 74
Keegan Bradley (US) 71 77 73
Ross Fisher (GB) 71 77 73
Anders Hansen (Den) 76 72 73
Bill Haas (US) 72 74 76
Charl Schwartzel (SA) 72 75 75
Martin Laird (GB) 76 72 74
Martin Kaymer (Ger) 72 75 75
Thomas Bjorn (Den) 73 76 74
Bo van Pelt (US) 73 75 75,
Luke Donald (GB) 75 73 75
Patrick Cantlay* (US) 71 78 74
Scott Verplank (US) 73 75 75
Robert Karlsson (Swe) 74 74 77
Trevor Immelman (SA) 78 71 76
Gonzalo F'dez-Castano (Sp) 74 75 76
Edoardo Molinari (It) 75 74 76
Kelly Kraft (US) 74 75 77
Stewart Cink (US) 71 75 81
Gary Woodland (US) 73 70 85
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