2012 Masters: Breaking Down 3rd Round for Phil Mickelson
Being a fan of Phil Mickelson has its ups and its downs, much like the game of the man we admire.
On Thursday, we watched as Phil slapped it around the course, even making a triple bogey on a hole with no water.
On Friday, we watched as he played much better, scoring a 68 to get himself to two-under for the tournament.
Saturday, we were treated to vintage Phil Mickelson. He played an excellent round on the difficult Augusta National course to finish the day at eight-under for the tournament, one off the lead held by Peter Hanson.
How did he do it? What went right and how did Phil get out of trouble when he found it?
Let's have a look.
Off the Tee
Early in the round, there were some wayward shots. An excellent example was on the second hole when he flared his tee shot into the woods right. After taking a drop from a hazard, he hit his driver again off the pine straw, between the trees, and in front of the green.
Most people would not even think to hit a shot like that, but that's Phil. He can and will try any shot.
He made par on the second hole, as well as all the other holes on the front.
On the back nine, he found five of seven fairways, setting up four birdies and an eagle.
His driving, which was the bane of his existence on Thursday, was solid and, on occasion, spectacular.
Phil was dialed in for most of the back nine. He had birdie putts on 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17 and 18. He had an eagle putt on 13. The only time he missed a green on the back nine was the 16th hole, where he was just off the green to the right.
It wasn't just that he was finding the greens. He was finding the right parts of the greens. He was below the hole on 10, on the same level as the hole on the 13th and had putts that could have been made on 11, 14 and 17.
It's been said that you would rather have a 10-foot putt up a slope than a three-footer down a slope at Augusta.
Being the savvy, experienced veteran he is, Phil knew where to put his approach shots so to have good looks at birdie.
It was an impressive display.
As much as Phil was dialed in with his approach shots, he was even more dialed in with his putter.
He was never in danger of making a three-putt, and made putts of 14, 25, 10 feet on 12, 13 and 18 respectively.
Even the putts he didn't make looked to have reasonable chances to go in. He left putts on 14 and 17 just short, but they were good-looking putts.
For the entire back nine, Phil took a mere 12 putts. That, my friends, is rolling your rock and well.
There were not that many opportunities to show off his incredible imagination or his astonishing touch around the greens, but he made the most of the times he had to scramble.
On the second, he hit a driver from off pine straw, between trees in front of the green. I can't stress this enough: No one, but nobody even considers that play, let alone attempts it. On top of that, he pulled it off!
On the 15th, he put his second shot over the middle of the green leaving an extremely difficult chip shot to a green running away from him.
Just to illustrate the point, Peter Hanson had almost the exact same shot in front of Phil and couldn't keep his ball on the green. Hanson had hit a very nice shot and simply couldn't stop it.
What does Phil do? He hit a flop shot that looked to fly some 30 feet straight up. The ball fell straight down and stopped almost instantly about six feet from the hole.
And then there was his approach on 18. Having driven in the right rough, Phil had to play an enormous hook around the trees to get on the green. He was so far right that when they showed his angle to the green, you couldn't see the green. All you could see was the bunker that guards the front left corner of the green.
Doing what he always seems to do, Phil hit the required hook. Not only did he get on the green, he was on the right level of the green and ended up making birdie.
It is these kinds of shots, and Phil's ability to pull them off when he needs to, that makes him one of the most fun players to watch.
One has to wonder what might have been if Mickelson had played better on the front nine. Not that he played badly. It is not easy to play the front nine at Augusta at even par without making a single bogey.
That he played the back nine in 30, making four birdies and an eagle, is nothing short of spectacular.
Keep in mind that he barely missed making birdies at 14 and 17.
Mickelson shoot a bogey-free 66 on a day when there were only seven scores posted under 70. Only Peter Hanson played a better round, shooting 65, and he bogeyed the first hole.
No one else shot better than 68.
On moving day at the Masters, Mickelson moved.
Phil played a great round on Saturday. He made par when he had to and made birdies and eagles when he could.
He posted the second-best round of the day and, maybe most importantly, got himself into the final group on Sunday.
This is significant because the winner of the Masters has come from the final group on Sunday eight of the last 10 Masters, including all three times Mickelson has won this tournament.
Add to that the fact that Phil has the most major tournament experience of anyone in the top 10 going into Sunday.
In fact, of the players currently in the top 10, only Padraig Harrington (three major wins), Louis Oosthuizen (one) and Paul Lawrie (one) have won majors.
On the other hand, it is very hard to back up a great round with another great round.
The question then becomes: Can Mickelson keep hitting greens and making putts to become only the fourth man to win the Masters four times?
As for Saturday, Mickelson gets an "A" for his performance, and he deserves it.