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Phil Mickelson the man to beat after setting up scintillating Sunday

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Rob Hodgetts | 08:54 UK time, Sunday, 8 April 2012

An air of expectancy hung over Augusta. Moving Day they call it, but it was more of a shuffle. Until Phil Mickelson stepped on the gas.

The electrifying American ignited the famous roars again in what has become something of a Masters tradition, like the par-three contest, pimento sandwiches and veteran Fred Couples having an early run.

The popular left-hander didn't disappoint on Saturday, and has helped set up a scintillating Sunday.

Mickelson's eagle on the 13th to grab a share of the lead prompted the first ground-shaking roars of the weekend. He followed it up with an outrageous high flop shot from behind the 15th green to set up another birdie.

And he finished with a flourish after carving a draw around the trees to eight feet to set up a final birdie on the 18th to end eight under, one off the lead held by Sweden's Peter Hanson.

All this from a man who was four over after 10 holes of his first round.
"I just feel really confident in the way I've been playing and the way I've been putting and in this setting and on this golf course," said Mickelson.

"I love it here and I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters. It's the greatest thing in professional golf."

But if Mickelson laid down the golf glove, Hanson picked it up. The Swede finished with four birdies in five holes for a stunning 65, the low round of the week.

"That was one of those special kind of Masters moments that I've been watching so many times on TV," said Hanson. "You hear the crowd going wild when he [Mickelson] made the eagle. It kind of helped me."

Clearly, Hanson will be a massive underdog. It is hard to look past Mickelson on a course where he is bidding for a fourth Green Jacket in nine years.

Were he to do so, the 41-year-old American would match compatriots Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, and move within two titles of Masters record-holder Jack Nicklaus. Intriguingly, Palmer won all his titles in even years - 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964 - and so has Mickelson (2004, 2006, 2010).

Two years ago Mickelson's run of eagle-eagle-birdie from the 13th sent the Saturday crowd wild. The following day, he hit what is now considered to be one of the most famous shots in golf when he threaded a six iron between two pine trees to the right of the 13th to set up a six-foot eagle chance. Though he missed the putt, it was the turning point as he went on to see off Lee Westwood by three shots.

But after demonstrating his gamblers' instinct on Saturday, the Californian credited Thursday's gritty fightback to end two over - followed by a 68 on Friday - for his current lofty position.

"I knew I would get a hot hand at some point," said Mickelson, who leads the stats for fewest putts with 77 from Hanson with 79. "I just needed to not be so far back that it didn't move me off the leaderboard."

The Californian has been in the final group each time he has won - shooting 69, 69 and 67 - outscoring his playing partners by 13. He also beat Hanson 4&2 when they went head-to-head in the Ryder Cup singles in 2010.

Hanson, who won twice on the European Tour that year, admitted that trying to sleep ahead of the final round was "going to be tough", but he has at least seen Mickelson close up at Augusta after playing with him in the first two rounds.

"The crowds are so much behind Phil and they love him, and I understand why - the way he plays," he said.

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"I'm just going to try to enjoy it. I tried to stay pretty close to him the first couple of days and let it feed off a little bit. It's great playing in front of these fans and it's just an amazing feeling."

But, of course, it's not all about the top two. Nine players are within five shots of the lead - and all have proven credentials.

Louis Oosthuizen (-7) is the 2010 Open champion, Bubba Watson (-6), Matt Kuchar (-5) and world number four Hunter Mahan (-4) have won multiple PGA Tour titles, Padraig Harrington (-4) is a three-time major winner, Lee Westwood (-4) is the world number three and was second in 2010 and Henrik Stenson (-4) has won in Europe and the US.

Even Paul Lawrie at three under has won a major.

Charl Schwartzel fought back from four adrift to win by two last year, while the biggest final-round comeback was in 1956 when Jack Burke recovered from an eight-shot deficit.
That would open it up to another 13 players, although not Rory McIlroy (+1), Tiger Woods (+3) or world number one Luke Donald (+7).

Harrington believes experience will be the key to surviving a possible cavalry charge on Sunday.

"You've got to know the feelings coming down the stretch at the Masters," he said. "That back nine is different [from] any other major tournament, purely because of the risk/reward all the way home. There's a lot more intimidation through the last nine holes and that really does take a lot of experience."

Schwartzel was only playing in his second Masters - as is Hanson - and withstood the heat of a crazy afternoon 12 months ago.

But Mickelson had long played his way out of it. Not this time.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I can't help but think that Mickelson may have peaked too soon, but then again the same could have been said two years ago when he made two eagles in quick succession in the third round. He's got the experience so he's the favourite in that respect, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a complete change in the top three by the time this is over. I backed either Westwood, Dufner or McIlroy to win yesterday and look how that turned out. Only Westwood still has a semi-legitimate chance out of that lot. Oosthuizen has the experience of winning a major but has never played well at the Masters until now, and Hanson might buckle under the pressure. Mickelson hasn't done much since his last Masters win, but that doesn't mean very much. Hell, Harrington looked very handy on the back nine last night, and he's barely received a mention despite having three majors in the last six years. It could be a very entertaining and close final round...or Mickelson might just run away with it. I'm hoping for the former.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am sure that the quality of golf will be excellent. You never know Westwood might just shoot 64!
    I fear the quality of the BBC coverage worsens by the year. I genuinely feel sympathy for Perter Alliss an Ken Brown. What on earth are the BBC doing using Michael Vaughan as an interviewer. Crass, facile and demeaning to the game. Quite frankly the organisation has lost the plot and does not deserve to cover quality sport!

  • Comment number 3.

    What a day that was with twists and turns and I don't think they are finished yet. I would like to see Hanson or Oosthuizen win for the sake of golf. Although there are some people who are not too far back who could spring a surprise, Harrington, Westwood or Mat Kuchar. Kuchar was the only American that I saw in an interview with a sense of humor. As for Woods, McIlroy and Co they will just have to ponder the could have beens. A bit disappointed in them but they are not the only guys out there who can play.

  • Comment number 4.

    Oh I forgot to mention that I watched yesterdays round on the beeb. I only saw Tiger once and he was not mentioned in the commentary. No bull#### talk from Harmen just a good old suttle Peter Alliss going about his job. People today are talking today about the coverage being rubbish, I can't listen to Mark Roe anymore with his high tech board. It probably took him a year to learn how to use it. He looks very amateur and out of place. It is a golf tournament, who needs all this high tech.

  • Comment number 5.

    Wonshort - know what you mean about Michael Vaughan, as a summariser on TMS he is decent but why do the BBC think that qualifies him to do the post round interviews? On the plus side though they do have the excellent Andrew Cotter and the expertise of Wayne Grady. My problem is the exceedingly smug and annoying Ken Brown (face like a halloween cake); if he says "Nae Bad" again after a Paul Lawrie shot I will head butt the telly!

  • Comment number 6.

    Great to see the golf coverage back on the beeb, however like wonshort #2 I can't for the life of me understand why they have Michael Vaughan involved... You could see from the looks on some of the American faces, they were thinking who is this guy???
    Clearly they deduced from his insightful questioning that he doesn't know a lot about golf, so maybe he should transfer to the other side with messrs Murray & Clark...
    Big Phil is in the box seat... The winner very rarely comes from outside the last group, but Hanson could do it if he can hold it together... Would be nice to see Harrington make a charge and win another Major for Ireland.

  • Comment number 7.

    Cant believe Mickelson has fought back into contention. I said it was'nt likely, the blog writer said it was a possibility. I take my hat off to you sir.

  • Comment number 8.

    "I would like to see Hanson or Oosthuizen win for the sake of golf." @ 3

    ** **

    Bizarre (!) comment. I've tried - tried very hard - to detect the rationale but, no sorry, I just can't. Really don't see why a Peter Hanson or a Louis Oosthuizen victory (as opposed to, say, Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson) is needed for the good of the game. I don't even see why it'd be better for the game. Phil and Bubba are both very exciting golfers, after all - more so than PH/LO, most would say.

    Are you sure - are you absolutely sure - that it's not just you don't want an American to win and that the 'for the sake of golf' comment isn't utter tosh?

    (Great Masters, anyway, as it almost always is, with the 'Rory vs Tiger' hype shown up as being just that. I'm a big fan of both of them, thus disappointed, but one has to admit it's quite amusing how it's turned out. Won't stop us hyping it again at the next one, though, thank goodness.)

  • Comment number 9.

    Can't help thinking that being paired with Garcia yesterday was the worst thing that could happen to McIlroy, Garcia is a player who seemingly finds new ways every major of playing himself out of contention and looks like he passed on the virus - Rory of course must take responsibility for a performance that seemed to lack focus and concentration nevertheless, the jokey 'sunshine boys on a golf outing approach' would surely not have happened if the pairings had worked out differently.

  • Comment number 10.

    To sagamix. I watched the interview with Mickelson after his round yesterday and all I could hear was I, I, I, I. He had himself playing in the final group today before people like OH had finished there round. That is disrespesctful towards fellow pros. So I hope he doesn't win, but to say I hope that an american doesn' win is wrong, If there is to be an American winner then KUCHAR

  • Comment number 11.

    The idea of using Vaughan as an interviewer must be based on his ramblings about golf on Test Match Special when he should be talking about cricket. I honestly think he is only employed because he has friends in high places in the BBC. On cricket he may have been England captain but he knows almost nothing about the history and traditions of the game...compare him to Boycott or the late Trevor Bailey and you will see that most of his knowledge is superficial. Maybe the BBC should send him to cover indoor bowls or something like that but keep him off the major sports please

  • Comment number 12.

    Im not sure where all the criticism for Michael Vaughan has come from. I thought he was quite good and especially enjoyed it when he made a very smug comment about Hunter Mahan's hat..

  • Comment number 13.

    Disappointed that the Masters won't be going to Northern Ireland this year, but hey, you can't win them all.
    Understand some of the comments about Michael Vaughan, a big fan of him on TMS, but I agree it is stretching it for him to be part of the golf coverage, but everyone has to start somewhere too
    Unfair to call his knowledge of the cricket history and tradition as superficial, as he brings a more up to date perspective to the cricket analysis along with Tuffers, but no less worthy than the excellent Boycott,Aggers, and Vic Marks, not forgetting the incomparable Blowers.

  • Comment number 14.

    The masters has not disappointed again and I for one have not missed Woods being in the frame. His demeanour and bad grace detract from a great sporting event. The talent and good manners if Michelson and many others more than make up for it.

    The lack of proper highlights on Days 1 and 2 was woeful. I am glad I was not the only one wincing at Vaughan's interviews.puerile and stilted.
    I know plenty of amateur golfers who could do a better job. Can he even play himself as his knowledge appears minimal . Even Sue Barker could do a better job just save us from the smug Linneker next time

  • Comment number 15.

    Spot on Below par. If Woods had been any other player he would have been up before the committee for his language and demeanour. As far as I'm concerned he's a disgrace, regardless of his ability. By contrast we have hugs from Rory and Sergio, stunning play from 'aw shucks' Phil, and a great raft of talent within 5 shots. Can't wait for this evening. Bring it on !! Only downside is how do I fit in the MotoGP?

  • Comment number 16.

    Awesome job Phil! I also like that Sergio made a run in the first couple of rounds. I liked seeing him up there. As for Tiger kicking clubs and cursing. He disrespects the game. I can't stand him. And here in America ESPN still shows every one of his shots. No one wants to watch him and his adulterer hooker loving ways. Or his club kicking tantrums. Tiger makes himself look like a teenage boy. He disrespects the game. Golf was here long before Tiger, and it will be here long after Tiger's gone. He seems to forget that.

    Jack Nicklaus once threw a club in frustration when he was about 14 playing with his father who promptly and sternly said "if you EVER throw another club it will be the LAST time you even touch a golf club." That's class! That's respect. Me and my friends show respect for the game when we are by ourselves on a public course here in Ohio. Tiger can't show respect on a private course, for a major, with millions of people watching around the world. He is an embarrassment.

    Maybe if he started actually giving golf the respect is deserves he would win a major again. As for now, he is an emotional midget.

  • Comment number 17.

    Mick showed great respect for turning up on the first tee to watch Arnie, Jack and Gary hit their tee shots - Mick was not teeing off till later in the day, so he actually made a special effort to put himself out to watch on that first tee.

    He spends hundreds of hours signing for fans and always makes himself available for TV interviews.

    As for Woods kicking his clubs and swearing - his excuse ? - "I was frustrated"

    So why dont all the other players who also have a poor round and get frustrated start attacking their clubs and swearing ?

  • Comment number 18.

    I forgot to mention in my earlier post, please get rid of Michael Vaughan. He's an ex cricketer for Gods sake. Surly the barrel isn't that empty !

  • Comment number 19.

    I was disappointed today though when I had to look very hard to read anything about Paul Lawrie's excellent performance so far. I thought I must've been imagining that he had been taking part! Even on the BBC Sport website it was nearly 11am before he got a mention when nearly every other British or European player had been mentioned and most of them were well below him on the leaderboard.

    Thankfully there is a leaderboard and his name sits up there very proudly in 10th place at the moment, one of only four major winners in the top ten at the moment. I hope he continues his form today. Good luck to him and his playing partner Westwood today. I would love to see him do well too.

  • Comment number 20.

    I thought having Vaughan interviewing the players was pretty poor and his comment to Hunter Mahan was disrespectful and unprofessional. He's not his best mate!

    I don't know why the Beeb insist on having the likes of him, Lineker and Hanson on a golf programme. What's wrong with having more professional reporters and presenters doing that job like Hazel Irvine and Andrew Cotter or Des Lynam and Steve Ryder if you go back further. At least ex professionals like Grady, Brown, Allis etc know what they're talking about.

    I switched over to Sky for that reason. I'm not a fan of listening to Monty or Harman but at least Tim Barter is professional at doing his job and you can tell the players acknowledge that by their response to him.

  • Comment number 21.

    @16 couldn't agree more about Tigers behaviour, petulance personified! I noticed one of the headlines on the golf pages here was "Tiger apologises for kicking club" oh well that's alright then!

    This wasn't an isolated incident and you can guarantee it also won be the last, you just wonder how many more times we the paying public will have to put up with watching him behave with such disrespect before the authorities come down on him?!

  • Comment number 22.

    Golf doesn't need Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods needs golf and should be grateful for all he's got out of the game over the years and start treating not only the game but others involved with the respect it and they deserve.

  • Comment number 23.

    Tiger's apology was lame to say the least.
    When a player of Tom Watson's stature in the game takes the time to pass on his advice to Tiger about his on course demeanor he would do well to sit up and take notice.

    He knows he is an icon of the game and that youngsters hero worship him but it obviously isn't something he's concerned about. It's the same in alot of other sports too though. Maybe Tiger should've been a soccer player!

  • Comment number 24.

    irenpar @ 10

    You're in a tiny minority (of a whole number residing equidistantly between zero and two) in thinking that Phil Mickelson is in any way 'disrespectful' to the game and/or to his fellow competitors. Indeed most golf fans feel quite the opposite.

    brassfrog @ 16

    Fine to not like Tiger Woods (I do but it's in no way mandatory), however to say that 'nobody wants to watch him' is clearly ludicrous. An awful lot of people love watching him play. No, what you're doing there is falsely imputing your own beliefs and opinions to others.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think that Michael Vaughan has been a revelation and I'm really enjoying his informed banter. The best decision made by the golfing "powers that be" since the ditching of the hugely overrated and overpaid Lineker.

  • Comment number 26.

    Vaughan has indeed been a revelation...and of many things...however of quite what I am too polite to say! Please stick to professional broadcasters or articulate ex professional golfers who can perhaps offer a little bit of insight! I am sure that Mr Vaughan would feel somewhat slighted if Gary Neville (excellent find that he is proving to be on SKy's football caverage) had interviwed him immediately after winning The Ashes!

    Regarding Woods and his club kicking...I find it extremely strange that neither any broadcaster nor any golfing body actually comes out and criticises him at the time of his action. The silence on SKY's commentary at the time was quite bizarre! Perhaps afraid he will not give any of his 'insightful' interviews if he is criticised! Only Tom Watson has had the guts to criticise Woods in the past...and good on him for that!

  • Comment number 27.

    @10

    Phil Mickleson respects the game a hell of a lot more than Mr TW. Tom Watson was right in criticizing him shame sky and the like can't bring themselves to do it. Aliss gave the little runt the amount of air time he deserved about a minute.

    This wins me the firs part of my bet that woods will win no majors this year. The hype surround this so called man is nauseating. If only the USA commentators would just give it a rest and concentrate on their younger players rather than this washed up player. He will not beat Jack's record he may get close but then it will be masters majors that he will need to win and his driving and putting are not really up to it. Notice he is pulling putts to the left again. Also the fact that the fairways are mown toward him means he has to hit the ball hard then out come the swing flaws again.
    No one noticed that the guy when he was winning tournaments was 150lbs when wet not he is 210. That has got to effect your swing and lead to injuries.
    I say all this not with pleasure, he was the greatest golfer I ever had the chance to follow live (never saw Jack in his prime) sad really to have that much talent and chuck it away

  • Comment number 28.

    he should be heavily fined for his behavior yesterday with a warning that a repeat will lead to disqualification. Any other pro behaved like that they'd be a serious amount poorer

  • Comment number 29.

    Tiger's birdied the 2nd, he's rolling! I sense a 63 today, posts 6 under, then the Big Wind comes in for the leaders, who all crumble, and it's a 5th jacket for our hero!

  • Comment number 30.

    @ 24 - agree on both points. Mickleson is considered one of the most gracious and respectful guys out there. He is THE most fan friendly pro too.

    As for Tiger, agree his behaviour is totally unacceptable but again, as sagamix says, the fact that TV audiences double when he's playing in an event is testament to the fact that a lot of people do want to watch him regardless.

    On Vaughan - not sure why everyone is being so abusive, he wasn't that bad. He is golf obsessed, has been to Augusta many times as a fan (and caddy for Westwood in the par 3 contest) and along with the likes of Lineker, Hanson, Henman and others, he is a very good amateur golfer AND he IS a professional sports commentator!!

    Final point in Stenson - it's strange how much attention Woods's club throwing/kicking gets compared to the utterly outrageous temper tantrums he throws every time he plays. If you haven't noticed it before, try youtube.

  • Comment number 31.

    Amazing! - I click on the banner about Hanson leading the Masters expecting to read about his exploits ... and get a couple of lines before the remaining lines upon lines go over everything that has been said in previous articles about others.
    Even in this article he gets mentioned briefly after extolling the virtues of Mickleson, and I read on to find out more, but that's it ... a one liner!

  • Comment number 32.

    Mickelson is the man to beat, you're dead right. However, (I know this sounds cliched but...) anything can happen on the final day at Augusta.

    It will be really interesting to see how Hanson handles the pressure of leading from the front and indeed just playing alongside the fans favourite and it will also be intriguing to see if anyone can break from the pack like Schwartzel did last year.

    I think the likes of Bubba and Mahan can force themselves into the reckoning and Oosthuizen knows what it takes to close out a major on a Sunday evening. The final evening of the Masters will be a thrill-fest. http://jackhayward1989.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/the-masters-2012-who-can-produce-their-sunday-best/

  • Comment number 33.

    Mickelson should have gone back to the tee on 4th. His brain is scrambled egg trying to hit an impossible unplayable lie. By the way, why is the BBC showing the shots out of sequence. We have just seen Tiger making his second shot on the 18t after see him lining up his putt and Hanson teeing off after Michelson who clearly did not have the honour. Come on guy get it right. Tension is created by having the correct sequence of events.

  • Comment number 34.

    Please please please, can someone please stop Michael Vaughan form embarrassing himself and the UK any further. He clearly has no idea what he's doing, he is not a trained interviewer and he Got Tiger's Masters wins wrong. Why isn't he out with the English Cricket team, what an earth are the been thinking

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 36.

    Obviously if you criticise Michael Vaughan you have your post removed!!

  • Comment number 37.

    Has anybody, in the modern era, won a major having made two treble bogies?

  • Comment number 38.

    Can the BBC please get rid of Michael Vaughn as post round interviewer. His questions are dry and lacklustre, and he doesn't sound like he knows what he's talking about!

  • Comment number 39.

    I think the BBC coverage regarding Watson was a joke! his swing is all wrong, he's all over the place mentally and then when he wins its jokes about his emotions?? I am quite sure if Westwood had won and cried everyone would be saying "awe that's fantastic. Fact is this guy won and was superb, unlike the BBC!

  • Comment number 40.

    @39 Have to agree. The impartial BBC strikes again. Have to say that Watsons shot from the trees on 10 was unreal. Deserves to win any tournament. Even just for the sheer guts to be using a bright pink driver around Augusta.

  • Comment number 41.

    @30 - Southernfairy - Vaughan has only been to the Masters once previous to 2012.
    see http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/robhodgetts/2012/04/what_i_think_about_when_i_thin.html

    His faux pas with Woods last night was unbelievably ignorant. He should've been sacked on the spot. As someone with only a passing interest in golf I could tell you how many Masters most of the players have won never mind the most talked about golfer of the modern era.
    Shameful.
    What's that saying? - Fail to prepare, prepare to fail - says it all really!

 

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