Sometimes a player has to grind, needs a few lucky bounces, and has to figure out a way to get it in the house when the swing isn’t working. This is something that Phil Mickelson does better than anyone else on Tour (the 2006 US Open notwithstanding) and Saturday’s 3rd round at Riviera showcased precisely why.
As he had done the past two days, Mickelson would once again birdie the opening par5 1st and quickly get it under-par for the round. The next 5 hours, however, would be an adventure that would take Lefty off the beaten path. Mickelson continued the inconsistent theme from Friday’s round, struggling both off the tee and from the fairway, managing to find nearly as many spectators and eucalyptus trees as he did fairways and greens Saturday. His first bogey came at the par3 4th, as he missed the green and missed his 11-footer for par, taking him back to even on the day. Two holes later on the par3 6th, Mickelson would miss the green yet again, but would avoid bogey by making a difficult 12-footer to save his par. After hitting his approach on the par4 9th to 7 feet, he would fail to convert the birdie and made the turn at level par on the day. Aside from the birdie two holes later on the par5 11th, his erratic back-nine play would mirror the front, but so too would his Mickelson-esque short game. On no fewer than four occasions coming in, he would miss greens by sizable margins yet escape with pars. Mickelson admitted afterward that his game was off again for the second consecutive round, but that he was also proud of the way he was able to scramble for an under-par round of 1-under 70 on an off day. “This was a great round for me because I did not play well, and I shot 1-under par and I’m atop the leaderboard,” Phil said. “Usually when I win, I’ll have two good rounds and I’ll have two rounds that aren’t so great that I’ve got to keep somewhere in it to give myself a chance.” In Mickelson-speak, that was a subtle Saturday evening parting shot telling the field to bring it Sunday, because in his mind he’s due. But with 8 players within 3 shots of the lead chasing him, it’ll be no easy task at Riviera.
But Mickelson isn’t the only one atop the leaderboard heading into Sunday’s final round. Keegan Bradley made a major move on moving day, tying two other players (Bryce Molder and
Aaron Baddeley) for low honors on Saturday with a 5-under 66 effort. He’s at 7-under along with Mickelson, and looks forward to playing alongside him Sunday. “Any time you play with Phil it means you’re playing pretty well,” Bradley said. “But I can promise you I do want to beat Phil, and he wants to beat me. I just look forward to the challenge of going out there and being in the hunt with him. Like I said, you never know what Phil is going to shoot. He could shoot a really low one or not, so you’ve got to try not to focus on him as much.” Bradley is serious about winning his 3rd Tour event Sunday at Riviera, but he also acknowledged the respect and admiration he has for Mickelson, who Bradley says went out of his way to make him feel welcomed as a rookie last season. “But the thing that I do have is I have played with him a bunch, I’ve hung out with him, and I feel more comfortable this year than I would last year playing in the final group. I’ve got that going for me. I love Phil. Everything he’s done for me is great, and if I didn’t win tomorrow, I would hope he would.”
Bryce Molder, who is 1 shot back at 6-under par, will be paired with Mickelson and Bradley in the final group Sunday.
(3rd round scores in parenthesis)
1-shot back @ 6-under: Bryce Molder (5-under 66), Jonathan Byrd (2-under 69), Pat Perez (1-under 70)
2-shots back @ 5-under: Aaron Baddeley (5-under 66), Dustin Johnson (4-under 67), Bill Haas (3-under 68)
3-shots back @ 4-under: Ryan Moore (3-under 68), Jarrod Lyle (even-par 71)
For a full recap of Saturday’s action at the Northern Trust Open, click HERE.