AUGUSTA, Ga. – After nine bogeys through two rounds, Phil Mickelson cleaned up his scorecard Saturday at Augusta National.
The three-time Masters champion logged just one bogey as part of a third-round, 3-under 69 that moved him to even par for the tournament.
“This was a round, first time in a long time, where I scored, where I just kept saving shots and putting it in the right spot,” Mickelson said. “I didn't really strike it as well as I did the first few days, but I scored. I put it in the right spot. I got up and down a lot, and it felt good to shoot a number at least. It wasn't the easiest, but it felt good to shoot a number.”
Mickelson began his day by draining an 11-footer for birdie at the first. He then drove it up near the green at the par-4 third and holed a 4-footer for another birdie. His only blemish came with a bogey at No. 7, but he bounced right back with a birdie at the next. His final birdie of the round came on a two-putt from 44 feet at No. 13, as his playing competitor, Billy Horschel, was slipping, falling and hitting a shot from the creek.
Despite finding water of his own at No. 15, depositing a 7-iron from 191 yards well short and into the drink, Mickelson was able to save par to keep his solid round going.
“I feel like there's about six birdie pins, and then there's some hard pins,” Mickelson said. “You have to make longer putts, and I didn't quite make those 30, 40-footers to get the round really low.”
Mickelson hasn’t finished better than T-18 at Augusta National since his runner-up finish in 2015. It’s also been five years since his last major top-10. Overall, Mickelson doesn’t have a top-25 worldwide since Memphis last summer, and he’s slipped to No. 115 in the world.
“I'll be honest with you, a couple years ago I would have said I'm not sure what kind of game Phil has, but I think he's showing some bright spots,” Horschel said. “I think the thing that if you look at over the last few years, his iron game hasn't been up to his standards that we all know. And I think I've seen this week, or at least I saw today and over the last few months, his iron game is back. He's driving it better, and he looks like he's rolling it well. … And he still hits it pretty far. He still goes at it. He's out-driving me when he goes at it. Listen, the guy has got a ton of confidence. He's not afraid to hit the shot when it's called for.
“Does that mean he's got something special over the next few years? No, but I think I wouldn't be shocked if he does win in the next few years somewhere.”
At even par, Mickelson ended his third round seven shots back of leader Justin Rose, who was just teeing off. While he didn’t seem confident that he’d have a chance at his fourth Masters, Mickelson did note the late-afternoon forecast that calls for stronger winds and maybe some rain.
“I didn't play well enough the first two days and threw too many shots away to really give myself a legitimate opportunity, but sometimes you get lucky and you come out in the morning, today, and it was playable, and I made some birdies,” Mickelson said. “Then the wind picks up, and leaders don't go anywhere, and you end up having a chance on Sunday, which is certainly what I'm hoping for. I'll need to shoot something in the mid to low 60s, which is still fun to have a chance.
“You want that opportunity to do what [Jack] Nicklaus did in '86 and shoot 65 and have a chance.”