AUGUSTA, Ga. – Phil Mickelson’s wedge and putter conjured the same magic that comes with the wave of a maestro’s wand.
He created soul-stirring music in the third round that will rank among the legion of great concerts they’ve been witness to in the natural amphitheater they call the back nine at Augusta National.
Rachmaninov couldn’t have topped the crescendo of roars Mickelson summoned nearly making three eagles in a row in one of the most thrilling three-hole charges ever seen on a Masters’ Saturday.
Mickelson’s back-to-back eagles at the 13th and 14th holes and his near hole-out for another eagle at the 15th thrust him thickly in the hunt for his third Masters title going into Sunday’s final round. His spectacular display of shot making left him one shot behind front-running Lee Westwood and in the final pairing with the Englishman who’s bidding to win his first major championship.
Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s swing coach, was standing near the 14th green when Mickelson holed a pitching wedge from 141 yards.
“That roar at 14 was unbelievable,” said Harmon, who’s heard his share of roars over the years as Tiger Woods’ former swing coach. “I haven’t heard a roar like that in a long time.”
Augusta National was treated to what has to rank as the most thrilling 27-minute shot-making display ever seen at the Masters. One roar after another erupted amid Mickelson’s run. Fred Couples chipped in for eagle right before Mickelson’s final eagle. Ricky Barnes chipped in for birdie at the 13th right after Mickelson made eagle there.
“It was amazing,” Couples said. “The roars were unbelievable.”
From the pairing directly in front of Mickelson, Couples enjoyed a clear view of Mickelson’s eagle-eagle-birdie charge.
“I watched them all,” Couples said. “Phil really wants to win. He’s going to be the guy to beat.”
The interaction between Couples and Mickelson was almost comical as they playfully taunted each other amid the pressure of a “Moving Day” at a major. They went at each other like they were playing for a local club championship.
“Fred was giving us the business,” said Jim Mackay, Mickelson’s caddie.
The fun began before the round.
“It was pretty funny because we were texting a little bit about how low I was going to have to go to catch him and maybe play with him tomorrow,” Couples said.
Mickelson, who posted a 5-under-par 67, started the day two shots behind Westwood. At the turn, with Westwood off to a terrific start, Mickelson had fallen five back. In that dizzying 27-minute span, Mickelson seized the lead with his charge.
“There was no need to look at scoreboards,” Westwood said of all the noise.
Mickelson set up his first eagle at the 13th with a monster fade around the bend in the fairway. He slammed a 7-iron from 195 yards to 8 feet.
At the 14th, Mickelson thrust both arms in the air after holing that wedge from 141 yards.
“I can’t believe that ball disappeared and went in,” Mickelson said.
Couples was so impressed he tried to shout to Mickelson that he wanted the ball as a memento.
“He didn’t hear me,” Couples said.
After Couples chipped in for eagle at the 15th, he asked Mickelson if he wanted to trade golf balls.
Mickelson played with so much confidence, he said he was trying to hole the 87-yard wedge at the 15th for a third consecutive eagle. His shot curled to within inches for a tap-in birdie.
“I thought it was possible that somebody had two eagles in a row, but I didn't think anybody had three,” Mickelson said. “I was trying to go for that.”
Harmon said the beauty of the day was that Mickelson could go home and share his remarkable charge with his wife, Amy. Mickelson’s wife and three children arrived Tuesday. It’s the first time they’ve been together at a tournament since The Players Championship last year. It was a week after The Players that news broke that Amy had breast cancer. Shortly after that, news followed that Mickelson’s mother, Mary, also had breast cancer.
Amy’s famously known as Mickelson’s most passionate supporter.
Harmon says Amy’s situation took more a toll on Mickelson earlier this season than people realized this season, but his player’s relishing having his family together at the year’s first major. Phil’s parents and Amy’s parents also are here this week. Mary walked nine holes on Friday.
“Having his family here is a huge factor,” Harmon said. “He gets to go home at night and be with his family. He’s not been able to do that at a tournament this year. Amy is Phil’s biggest supporter. They go through rounds and talk about shots. I think it’s a big reason he’s been able to relax this week.”
Amy has not appeared on the course at any event since her diagnosis, and there are no plans for her to do so.
If Mickelson wins, though, she’ll be sure to get all the inside info on the shots that won it. If he wins, and her children spill onto the green to greet her husband, it’s sure to make for an extraordinary scene.