Mickelson surges into contention with Saturday 63


Just two days ago, it appeared that Phil Mickelson might be making an early exit from Abu Dhabi.

Following a scintillating round on Saturday, the five-time major champ just might find a way to leave the desert with the trophy.

Mickelson failed to make a single birdie Thursday en route to an opening-round 73 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but he more than made up for those early struggles during the third round when he climbed up the leaderboard after carding a 9-under 63.

Despite teeing off more than four hours before the leaders, Mickelson now finds himself tied for second and just two shots behind overnight leader Craig Lee.

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"I hit a lot of good shots, and I putted really well to make that many birdies," he explained after the round. "It was a fun day. I hit some good shots and capitalized on it."

While Mickelson's game improved somewhat from tee to green, the majority of his success came on the greens, where he needed just 22 putts to complete his round.

"I got off to a quick start," said Mickelson, who birdied four of his first six holes. "I needed to make a move, and I was able to do that on the front nine and then carry it over on the back."

Mickelson's round was capped with an unexpected birdie on the home hole, where the southpaw attempted a risky approach shot - seemingly his calling card - and saw the gamble pay off when his lengthy birdie putt found the hole.

"(Caddie) Bones (Mackay) did not like the decision to try to reach the green out of the bunker, and I don't blame him. It wasn't probably my smartest play," he admitted. "I had plenty of green to work with, I just drove a little pitching wedge, just kind of thinned it to keep it under the trees and gave myself a 45-50 footer, a putt you don't really expect to make too often. I just had a good feel on that one and rolled it right in there."

The 43-year-old was able to card the week's lowest round despite a pair of bogeys, blemishes that were neutralized with an eagle at the par-5 eighth amid his flurry of birdies. Now with just one name in front of his on the leaderboard, Mickelson is excited about what may be in store for Sunday's finale.

"What I like is that it feels better each day," Mickelson said. "The first day, I felt terrible. I felt terrible off the tee, I felt terrible with my irons and my putter was awful. The second day, half of it started to come around, and today it felt pretty good.

"I love the fact that I have a chance and I'm in contention the first tournament out this year. I love that I've played better each day," he added. "My swing is starting to feel sharper and sharper, and I'm starting to feel more and more control with each swing as the week goes on."