Phil Mickelson said he’s right where he wants to be -- in the last group on the final day of golf’s Masters Tournament.
Mickelson begins today one stroke behind 54-hole leader Peter Hanson as he seeks to join Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win at least four titles at the season’s first major championship.
Mickelson and Hanson will go off together in the final group after Mickelson mounted a late charge and finished with a 6-under-par 66 yesterday at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. The Masters winner has come from the final pairing 19 of the past 21 years.
“I just feel really confident in the way I’ve been playing, the way I’ve been putting and in this setting and on this golf course,” said Mickelson, who is 8-under par. “I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters. It’s the greatest thing in professional golf.”
Hanson, making his second Masters appearance, is 9 under after shooting a 7-under 65 yesterday, the best round of the tournament. The Swede, who has four wins on the European Tour, has never led in 38 previous U.S PGA Tour starts.
“I’ve never led in anything like this,” Hanson, who is seeking to become Sweden’s first major tournament winner, said at a news conference. “It’s going to be a tough night and just try to do the normal stuff. I’ll just try to get as much sleep as I can and try to be ready.”
Hanson, whose best finish in a major was a tie for seventh place at last year’s U.S. Open, played in a group with Mickelson during the first two rounds. The duo will tee off at 2:40 p.m. today local time.
“I know a one-shot lead over Mickelson is pretty much nothing,” said Hanson.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, is 7-under par, one shot better than Bubba Watson. Matt Kuchar is four shots off the lead, while Padraig Harrington, Hunter Mahan, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood are 4 under.
Four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods is 11 shots behind after scoring a birdie at the second hole today. Woods shot an even-par 72 yesterday, the third straight day he failed to break par. Fred Couples, who was tied for the lead after 36 holes, shot a 3-over 75 yesterday to fall to 2-under par.
Mickelson, 41, yesterday carded his best round at the Masters since 1996, when he had a 65 on the opening day. He had four birdies and an eagle over the final nine holes for a second-nine score of 30, one off the Masters record.
Mickelson said he was most pleased about being able to fight his way back into contention after dropping to 4-over par through 10 holes on the opening day of the tournament.
“I fought hard to get a couple back, knowing that there was plenty of golf left, that I would get a hot hand at some point,” Mickelson said. “I left myself in a position where if I did get hot, I could move up the leaderboard, which is what happened the last two days.”
Mickelson, who won the Masters in 2004, 2006 and 2010, credited his knowledge of Augusta National’s greens with helping him in his rally. He dropped an eagle putt of about 25 feet (7.6 meters) on the par-5 13th hole and closed his round with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 18, becoming the first player since Justin Leonard in 1999 to birdie the closing hole the first three days of the Masters.
Best on the Greens
Mickelson’s 77 putts over 54 holes is the fewest of the 62 players who will play the final round, two better than Hanson, who is the only other golfer in the field who’s averaged less than 1.5 putts per green.
Mickelson enters today as the 5-4 favorite to win, according to the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino’s sports book, with Hanson the second choice at odds of 4-1.
Woods, the winner of 14 major championships, is tied for 34th place. His worst finish in 17 previous Masters appearances is a tie for 22nd place in 2004. Woods hasn’t finished worse than sixth place in the past seven years at Augusta National, dating back to his last win in 2005.
Rory McIlroy, who blew a four-shot final-round lead at the Masters a year ago before winning the U.S. Open, is 1-over par for the tournament after shooting a third-round 5-over 77.
Defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is also 5-over after beginning his final round with a birdie. Luke Donald, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, has advanced to 4-over, having made three birdies in his opening eight holes today.