Sweden’s Peter Hanson emerged as the third-round leader of the Masters at Augusta National on Saturday after a day of high drama and fluctuating fortunes.
The 34-year-old World No. 25 produced golf of supreme quality to card a tournament-best seven-under 65 and stood at nine-under par, one stroke clear of fan favorite Phil Mickelson, who covered the back nine in six-under 30, one shy of the tournament record.
A stroke further back at seven-under came South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen after he had a 69, while the US’ Bubba Watson was on six-under after a 70.
Matt Kuchar (70) was on five-under with four players — Hunter Mahan of the US (68), Henrik Stenson of Sweden (70), Lee Westwood of England (72) and Padraig Harrington of Ireland (68) — all on four-under.
On a day of perfect playing conditions, eight players shared the lead at different stages drawing huge roars of appreciation from the big galleries assembled for the occasion.
Tiger Woods fired a par 72 and, at three over, his chances of winning a fourth green jacket are doomed, standing 12 strokes off the pace.
Rory McIlroy, one back from the leaders at the start of the day, was stunned by two double-bogey sixes on the front nine as he went out in a jaw-dropping 42 that brought back dark memories of his closing 80 here last year.
He steadied the ship somewhat down the back nine, but his total of 77 left him at two-over and out of contention.
Hanson, who played with Mickelson in the first two rounds, is one of the quiet men of golf, but after bogeying the first he made all the right sounds as he rattled off eight birdies, including the last two holes, to leap up the leaderboard.
It is only the Ryder Cup player’s second Masters, having missed the cut last year.
Asked what he would need to manage yesterday’s final round, he replied: “Emotions, of course. That’s going to be the biggest thing.”
“This is kind of a new situation to me, being in the spotlight like this, and playing the last group,” he said. “So it’s going to be about controlling my emotions and trying to be in the present and trying to play the same kind of golf that I’ve been doing today [Saturday].”
The 41-year-old Mickelson, though, was clearly the big story of the day for the Augusta National faithful who flocked to his side.
The three-time former winner in 2004, 2006 and 2010 started the day three strokes behind co-leaders Fred Couples and Jason Dufner and he got little going early on with nine straight pars down the front side.
However, similar to the Saturday round in 2010, Mickelson fired on all cylinders going round Amen Corner after the turn.
A birdie at 10, where he lost his ball in the first round on Thursday to slip to four-over, was followed by a birdie at the par-three 12th and an eagle at the 13th, where he sunk a 25 foot snaking putt from just off the green.
A superbly lobbed pitch from the back of the 15th green gave him another birdie and he finished in style with two more birdies at 17 and 18 for a 66, his best round at Augusta National since a 65 in 1996.
“It was a good day. I was patient because I had opportunities on the front nine that didn’t fall, but on the back nine they did and got me in a great position for tomorrow. The eagle on 13 was the big one — it gave me momentum,” he said.
Oosthuizen, aiming to make it back-to-back wins for South Africa after Charl Schwartzel’s victory last year, had a chance to draw level with Hanson at the last, but instead of the birdie he needed he got a bogey after a poor approach.