Lefty knows he has work to do
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- That guy handling the Hall of Fame plaque might want to hold off on the inscription. Save some room for another line on the résumé. Consider a way to work in another green jacket.
Phil Mickelson is a long way from winning his fifth major championship, but Saturday's performance at Augusta National deserves a page by itself on the Hall bio if Lefty goes on to claim his fourth Masters.
A ground-shaking eagle at the 13th. A jaw-dropping flop shot at the 15th to set up birdie. And mind-bending 7-iron around the trees at the 18th to finish off a back-nine 30.
It really doesn't get much better.
"I love it here and I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters," Mickelson said. "It's the greatest thing in professional golf."
He gave himself that opportunity with a riveting 6-under-par 66 that put him in the final twosome with Sweden's Peter Hanson, whose 65 gave him a one-shot lead. Nineteen of the last 21 Masters winners have come out of the last group.
Hanson, 34, who recently joined the PGA Tour, has played some nice golf of late, with top-five finishes at two World Golf Championship events. He has four victories on the European Tour and lost to Mickelson in singles at the 2010 Ryder Cup.
But four wins isn't four majors, and he doesn't even have much of a major championship pedigree. He's never been closer than seven shots entering the final round. Now he's on golf's grandest stage, playing against Lefty, who loves to breathe in the pine-scented Augusta air, even if it can be suffocating.
"He's inspired by this place," said Jim "Bones" Mackay, Mickelson's longtime caddie. "He knows he's got good mojo here. It never gets old. It's the greatest event in sports in my opinion. Where else would you want to be?"
Mickelson didn't figure to be teeing off last on Sunday, certainly not so close to the lead, when he couldn't find his ball on the 10th hole Friday, leading to a triple-bogey 7. Through 14 holes to start the 2012 Masters, he was 4 over par. Since that time, he has played the next 40 holes in 12 under par.
Nothing much was happening, however, on the front side Saturday, where Mickelson had to work to save a par 5 at the second and ended up making all pars over the nine holes. Then he got aggressive at the 10th for a birdie and made another at the 12th.
The par-5 13th is where it got exciting for Lefty, as he hit a 6-iron from 206 yards and rolled in a 25-foot eagle putt to tie for the lead.
"It was awesome," he said. "It was so much fun. ... When that putt went in, that was such a good feeling."
And it actually gave a jolt to Hanson, who was playing in the twosome in front of Mickelson, several times having to back off shots as he waited for the noise to subside behind him.
"That was one of those special kind of Masters moments that I've been watching so many times on TV," said Hanson, who would be the first Swedish man to win a major championship. "You hear the crowd going wild when he made the eagle. It kind of helped me on 14. I'm standing in the middle of the fairway and I feel him breathing down my neck a little bit and manage to get mine close on 14 and picked up another birdie on 15."
Mickelson added a birdie at the 15th after an amazing flop shot from just over the green, using a 64-degree wedge, launched the ball high into the air and dropped ever so gently a few feet from the pin.
It was a dangerous play in that it would have been easy for the club to slide under the ball or for Mickelson to hit it too hard and over the green, bringing water into play. But he made it look easy.
Just like the approach to the 18th, a 7-iron from 188 yards that played longer because it was uphill. Mickelson had to hook it around some trees, and it came off perfectly, landing on the green and rolling toward the pin. Mickelson holed the 12-footer for birdie to pull within one of Hanson.
"I'm not surprised by his ability to pull off shots with a lot of creativity," Mackay said.
It would also give him a fifth major championship, an impressive achievement in the 14-major Woods era. But Mickelson is one of eight players within five strokes of Hanson's lead. Trailing is 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen, as well as the top-ranked American Hunter Mahan and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.
"It gives me an opportunity to make something special happen," Mickelson said. "As great and as fun a round as this was, it just makes it possible to have something really special tomorrow. I still have to go out and do it. I still have to play some great golf on a tough golf course with some tough pin placements."
Regardless of what happens, Mickelson, 41, will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next month.
You can bet that ceremony will have a bit more buzz if Lefty goes in wearing a green jacket.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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2012 champion: Bubba Watson
Course: Augusta National Golf Club
Where: Augusta, Ga.
Yardage, par: 7,435 yards, par-72
Past champions: Complete list