Sizzling Mickelson surges six ahead in Phoenix
Phil Mickelson continued his red-hot form as he stormed home with five birdies in his last six holes to stretch his lead to a commanding six shots after the third round of the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona on Saturday.
Four ahead of the chasing pack overnight, Mickelson fired a sizzling seven-under-par 64 on another near-perfect day for low scoring at the TPC Scottsdale to tighten his grip on the tournament.
The American left-hander, who won the Phoenix Open in 1996 and 2005, pumped his left fist in celebration after rolling in a 15-footer to birdie the last and post a 24-under total of 189, just one shy of the PGA Tour low for 54 holes.
Compatriot Steve Stricker, with rounds of 60, 66 and 62, set the record at 25-under 188 in the 2010 John Deere Classic.
However, the chance to dip below the PGA Tour record for 72 holes was the last thing on Mickelson's mind as he turned his thoughts to Sunday's final round and his bid for a 41st victory on the U.S. circuit.
"I want to make sure that I take care of business first regarding the tournament and those other records and so forth, try not to worry about those," the 42-year-old told Golf Channel.
Birdies at the 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th and the par-four last gave Mickelson a scintillating back nine of five-under 31, leaving fellow American Brandt Snedeker (65) alone in second place at 18 under, a distant six strokes off the pace.
Irishman Padraig Harrington fired the day's lowest score with a 63 in front of record crowds of more than 179,000 to sit joint third at 16 under with American Ryan Moore (65).
The highlight of Harrington's round was an eagle at the par-five 15th where he spectacularly struck a five-wood from 243 yards to nine feet.
"It's a good club for me," the triple major winner said. "When I saw the pin set back right, I said, 'Look, I've got to take the chance of making eagle here to have any chance of catching Phil.' I felt good about my game today."
Fan favourite Mickelson, who studied at the nearby Arizona State University, again captured most of the attention as he continued his quest for a wire-to-wire victory after taking control of the tournament with a stunning, first-round 60.
Under a blazing sun, he birdied the par-four first and the par-four fifth, where he rolled in a 26-footer, to stretch his lead to five strokes at 19 under.
Out in two-under 33, Mickelson's lead was briefly trimmed to three by the charging Harrington but the American forged four ahead by getting up and down from a greenside bunker to birdie the par-five 13th.
Snedeker also closed to within three shots but Mickelson again responded in style, getting up and down for birdie from a greenside bunker at the par-five 15th to move to 21 under.
In front of nearly 20,000 raucous fans crammed around the par-three 16th, the "noisiest hole in golf", Mickelson struck a superb nine-iron to inside two feet and tapped in the birdie putt to regain a five-stroke cushion.
"Your adrenaline is going there so I always just immediately knock five yards off the distance," he said of his tee shot on 16. "I just hit a hard nine ... that turned out pretty good."
Mickelson also birdied the driveable par-four 17th, after chipping from just off the green to two feet, and the last, where he pushed his drive well left into the gallery but took a free drop and struck his approach to 15 feet.
Six ahead of the field going into the final round, Mickelson plans to maintain the same strategy that has worked so well for him this week as he seeks to join Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler and Mark Calcavecchia as triple Phoenix Open winners.
"I'll be pretty aggressive, given if I drive the ball the way I've been driving it and have these opportunities into the pins with short irons, I'm going to be able hopefully to make a lot of birdies," he said.
"I know what Brandt Snedeker can do. He's a great player and a great putter and can really light it up. He had a good round today."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)