The MastersApril 11, 2015

Five shots back, Mickelson looms large in Spieth's wake

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Commentating for the BBC, former European Ryder Cup player Ken Brown called it "a real momentum keeper." Which it would have been had Phil Mickelson holed his four-foot putt for par on the 11th green during the third round of this 79th Masters Tournament.

But he did not.

Four-under par for the day to that point - 10 under for the week -- and momentarily in second place five shots behind Jordan Spieth, for Mickelson the error doubled as a turning point. But not in the way Brown hinted it might.

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Instead of stalling in pursuit of the longtime leader, golf's greatest-ever left-hander resumed his previously relentless progress. Three birdies -- highlighted by a 41-foot putt for an unlikely deuce on the short 16th -- were the rewards for his persistence. It wasn't all positives, though. A deflating bogey at the penultimate hole, followed by a missed birdie chance at the last must have left a bit of a sour taste, even after a stirring round of 67. But Mickelson, publicly at least, was having none of that sort of negativity.

"It was a really fun day," he beamed. "To be in the third from last group in the Masters and have Augusta National playing so well, it couldn't have been any better."

So, as ever, Phil was making all the right noises. And with only two men in front of him, it is hard to imagine he doesn't harbor the realistic hope that Bubba Watson will be helping him into a fourth green jacket 24 hours hence.

Not that he was ever going to say as much. Not out loud anyway. Instead, Mickelson was quick to pour praise on the 21-year-old Spieth, even after Spieth's double-bogey at the penultimate hole.

"Jordan is playing really good golf and I think he'll have a really good round tomorrow," he said. "I don't think it matter who is close to him. I think that if he were to come out on top, it will be great to have him in the Champions Dinner every year. He would be a great champion.

"He's just a classy guy. He represents our sport so well and he's got a lot of game. So if he were to come out on top, it would be wonderful for the tournament, wonderful for golf. I'm going to try to stop him, but we'll see how it goes."

Uh-huh. Right Phil. I think we can take it as given he still fancies his chances.

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