Mickelson storms into six-shot lead at Phoenix Open

AFP, SCOTTSDALE, Arizona

Mon, Feb 04, 2013 - Page 20

Phil Mickelson birdied the last four holes to fire a seven-under 64 on Saturday, grabbing a six-stroke lead at the Phoenix Open with the second-lowest 54-hole score in USPGA Tour history.

Mickelson, who flirted with a 59 before settling for a first-round 60 and carded a second-round 65 that was marred by a double-bogey at 18, had no late lapse in Saturday’s third round of the US$6.2 million event.

After two birdies on the front nine, he added another at the 13th, then stormed in with four birdies, one by going up and down at the par-five 15th and another on the stadium-like par-three 16th with a tee shot less than three feet from the cup.

“Your adrenaline is going there, so I always take five yards off the distance and I just hit a hard nine-iron,” Mickelson said. “It turned out pretty good.”

His 24-under total of 189 matched the 54-hole tournament record set by Mark Calcavecchia in 2001 and put him six strokes in front of fellow American Brandt Snedeker, who had six birdies in firing a 65 to stand second.

“You need to shoot pretty low if you want to catch Phil,” Snedeker said.

If Mickelson could fire another 64 or lower at TPC Scottsdale, he would break the record for the lowest 72-hole score in USPGA history, a 26-under 254 by Tommy Armour III at the 2003 Texas Open.

The only lower 54-hole score in USPGA history was the 188 produced by American Steve Stricker at the 2010 John Deere Classic.

The 42-year-old, a winner of 40 career USPGA titles, including three Masters green jackets, was seeking his first title since last year’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a crown he is set to defend later this week.

Mickelson was well left off the tee at the 18th, but with a clear line to the green landed his approach 15 feet from the cup then sank his birdie putt.

“I blocked it left, but you have a good angle in and given that the pin is back right tomorrow, there’s a good chance I’ll be there again tomorrow,” he said.

The third-round crowd of 179,022 broke last year’s tournament record, also in the third round, by 5,812 people.

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington climbed up the leaderboard with an eight-under 63 for 197, tied with American Ryan Moore (65).

Harrington’s round included seven birdies and an eagle at the par-five 15th, where he bombed his drive 333 yards and his approach left him a nine-footer.

The Irishman, who started the round nine shots off the pace, got hot early with birdies at the first three holes and another at the fifth.

“I felt good about my game,” Harrington said. “I birdied four of the first five holes. I created a lot of chances after that all the way through. I could look at it and say I should have made a few more, but there’s a lot of good things in my game.”

After nabbing his eagle, Harrington got into the spirit of things on Superbowl weekend at the par-three 16th, drop-kicking a few footballs into the crowd.

“It was the first time I kicked an American football, but I’ve kicked a lot of balls in my time,” he said. “I got the last one sweet and kicked it over the grandstands.”