Moving Day Mickelson Heads South

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson stared out toward the 18th green, shook his head slightly, rubbed his chin and tried to figure out where it all went wrong.
 
On a day for going low, Lefty went south.
 
Mickelson wont need to worry about clearing a spot in his closet for a third green jacket, not after a dismal Saturday afternoon at Augusta National.
 
It was moving day, all right, but he moved in the wrong direction. Coming in just three strokes off the lead, Mickelson stumbled his way through a 3-over 75 that knocked him out contention heading to the final round.
 
A disappointing day, obviously, Mickelson said. I didnt play very well, and it was a day where there were some low scores out there. The greens were soft, the rain softened the course, and I thought there were some low scores. I just didnt shoot one of them.
 
Indeed, more than half the field shot par or better after heavy showers drenched the course just past lunchtime, causing a 45-minute delay and softening up those slick Augusta greens. Seven players shot in the 60s. Another six were at 70 or 71. Eleven more shot even-par 72.
 
And then there was Mickelson, whose score beat only seven other players and was epitomized by two dismal holes.
 
At the par-5 eighth, his third shot was right on the flag'literally. It struck the stick and spun back toward the fairway, nearly rolling off the green instead of staying up near the cup. He zoomed the putt 4 feet past the hole, then missed the comebacker. Instead of a likely birdie, he wound up with bogey.
 
That misfortune seemed to unnerve Mickelson, who bogeyed 10 and 12, but he appeared to collect himself with back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14.
 
Then there was No. 6, the 170-yarder known as Redbud. Ian Poulter had a hole-in-one there on Thursday, but this time the pin was tucked in the back right side of the green, a difficult placement that surrendered only four birdies Saturday and made it the fourth-toughest hole on the course.
 
The safe play was to lay it out left of the flag, take two putts and get out of there with a par. But Mickelson yanked an 8-iron into the one place he couldnt'the back right bunker. There was no way to blast it out of sand and keep it on the top tier of the green, so all he could do was watch his ball roll back toward the left fringe, leaving a good 60 feet just to save par.
 
You cant miss it right there, and I know that, Mickelson said. You just have to hit it left and try to make par.
 
He could even make bogey. Mickelson didnt give the uphill putt a hard enough whack and it came to a stop about 10 feet short. He missed that one, too, and took a 5. As he walked toward 17, he knew that any realistic hope of making a charge on Sunday was gone.
 
Trevor Immelman maintained the lead with his third straight round in the 60s, leaving him at 11-under 205 after three rounds. Mickelson is nine strokes back, needing a comeback of historic proportions to catch Immelman.
 
Jackie Burke overcame an eight-shot deficit on the final day to win in 1956, but he was aided by the collapse of amateur Ken Venturi. Even if the top four players on the leaderboard'none of them major winners'fall apart, theres still that guy in fifth place.
 
Tiger Woods shot a 68 and is three shots clear of Mickelson. Hard to imagine the worlds greatest player collapsing as well.
 
Ive just got to go out there and shoot a really low score, Mickelson said.
 
Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, followed up a second-round 68 with a 75 of his own. He bogeyed six out of 10 holes in one stretch, leaving him at even par and 11 strokes off the lead.
 
Poulters ace was a distant memory as he struggled through a birdie-less round. He bogeyed No. 9, took a double-bogey at the end and settled for pars on the other 16 holes. Yep, mark off another potential contender with a 75.
 
But the Englishman has never won a major, so his slide wasnt totally unexpected.
 
Mickelson, on the other hand, had three majors on his resume and is generally regarded as the best player in the world not named Tiger. Hes won two titles at Augusta in the last four years. On Saturday, though, Mickelson looked as though he was playing here for the first time.
 
It was an old bugaboo'the putter. In addition to that miss at No. 8, he botched putts of less than 10 feet at both 12 and 15, the latter costing him a third straight birdie.
 
If I knock that putt in, Im back to even for the round, which was the goal, said Mickelson, who started the day at 5 under. I thought I hit it closer. I thought it was 2 feet and instead it was 6. I didnt really putt those that well today, so when I missed that, well, that could have been a big momentum booster.
 
It was pretty much over by the time he got to 18. He drove it in a bunker, then knocked his second shot off a TV tower. Mickelson pulled off a delicate chip to save par, but it really didnt matter at that point.
 
Its one of those things where I think people who watch TV think, Oh, I cant believe Phil is hitting bad shots, said Steve Flesch, who played with Mickelson and wound being the best left-hander on the course.
 
I feel his pain because we have all gone through it. Unfortunately, its on a stage where its going out across the world. Everybody is seeing it.
 

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