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Vince Johnson: Mickelson moves the most

Posted: April 8, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 8, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Phil Mickelson pumps his fist after a birdie putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Masters golf tournament Saturday in Augusta, Ga.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – While Tiger Woods sputtered and Rory McIlroy collapsed, Phil Mickelson built on his Augusta legend.

On a Saturday billed as “moving day” at the Masters, Augusta National provided the back-drop to a scene where bright and flowing sundresses were the only things that outnumbered “oh, wow” moments.

“After what we just saw, we don’t need to see anymore,” exclaimed a patron after watching Mickelson drop a birdie on the 18th green, completing a round of 6-under 66, including a tournament-best 30 through the final nine holes.

Luckily for us, whether we need it or not, we’re getting more today.

We’re getting more Mickelson, the acrobat of Augusta, who added to his aggressive lore Saturday with a preposterous full-swing flop shot on 15 that would make mortal golfers quiver.

“There was a lot of risk. It wasn’t the safest shot,” Mickelson joked after the round about his 64-degree wedge masterpiece that led to birdie.

No kidding, Phil.

We’re getting more legendary drama, with Mickelson trailing Swede Peter Hanson by one stroke entering the Masters’ final round. The two played in the same grouping Thursday and Friday, and they’ll be the tournament’s final pairing Sunday.

“There’s nothing more exciting than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters because you have a chance, and that’s what we all want is that opportunity,” Mickelson said Saturday. “Sometimes it works out and that’s great, and sometimes it doesn’t, but you still had that opportunity. That’s what we play for.”

Fred Couples, who fired a 3-over 75 Saturday after holding a share of the 36-hole lead, enters today tied for 11th place and seven shots behind Hanson. Of the players in the top-10, none, except for Mickelson, are former Masters champions.

“I feel like (Augusta National) is a park for Phil, and he walks around and there’s a lake over here and if he needs to carve it across this pond, then, he’ll do this or that,” Couples said Friday. “You can tell he loves this place.”

That love is reciprocated. In his 19 previous trips to Augusta National, he’s finished in the top-10 12 times, the top-3 on seven occasions, and he’s slipped on the green jacket three times, in 2004, 2006, and 2010.

The Augusta crowds adore the Californian. Saturday, Mickelson received the tournament’s loudest roar, a thunderous ovation when his 20-foot eagle putt dropped at 13. He’s also a favorite of the members, often seen chatting with “the green jackets,” and he’s played the Augusta National course with members as recently as last week.

If he wins this 76th Masters, his Augusta accomplishments will vault into another stratosphere. Four green jackets would tie the historical hangers of Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods. Woods enters Sunday in 38th place after shooting a third-round even par 72.

Tying Arnie would cement his place in history, the Augusta National legend who wears his green jacket throughout every Masters’ week.

But tying Tiger Woods? To the notoriously ultra-competitive Mickelson, in the place he lavishly raves about, matching Woods would give him a notch-up on the greatest player of his generation at Augusta.

“It would mean a lot,” Mickelson deliberately said before the tournament about the prospect of winning his fourth green jacket and tying Woods, a gleam in his eye filled with unmistakable competitiveness.

Saturday, he made his move.

Today, he could make history.

Vince Johnson is in his fourth year covering The Masters for Morris Multimedia. He is The Signal’s chief multimedia officer and will be writing a daily column from Augusta National Golf Club. You can follow his week on Twitter @vincejohnson.


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