AUGUSTA, Ga. – What’s a guy have to do to get noticed around here?
Win a fourth green jacket?
Phil Mickelson was pretty much an afterthought entering this Masters, an aging former champion winless in almost two full years, with just a single top-10 finish in a PGA Tour event over this season and last.
He wasn’t on the marquee with the stars getting top billing here.
This week was all about the return of Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy’s bid to win the career Grand Slam.
Mickelson wasn’t even the best lefty at Augusta National with Bubba Watson the favorite to win his third Masters’ title in four seasons.
And when this Masters finally got started, fresh-faced Jordan Spieth stole the show in his bid to smash records and make history. Spieth’s brilliance only served to make Mickelson seem even older, even closer to officially being washed up with his 45th birthday less than two months away.
And yet when Saturday’s dizzying twists and turns finally skidded to a stop, there was Mickelson, back in the mix. He will tee it up Sunday with a chance to be the guy making all the history that matters. He’s seeking his sixth major championship title.
With a 5-under-par 67, Mickelson equaled the best score posted Saturday, putting himself in position to join Jack Nicklaus (6), Arnold Palmer (4) and Tiger Woods (4) as the only players to win four or more green jackets.
“I just love it,” Mickelson said. “It's what I dreamed about as a kid. It's what motivated me in the off season, four or five days a week, to get up at 5:30 and work out, dreaming of this, giving myself an opportunity in this tournament.
“Granted, I've got a lot of work to do tomorrow, and I'm quite a ways back. A good round though, and it could be fun.”
Mickelson will start the final round five shots back of Spieth, and if you watched Saturday’s finish, five shots seems as small as it’s ever been on the back nine at Augusta National. Mickelson was part of the head-spinning twists and turns late in the third round, drama that makes anything seem possible Sunday.
In a breathless four-hole stretch on the back nine, Mickelson went from seven behind Spieth to four down, then back to seven down before ending five back.
“It really is the best,” Mickelson said of being in the hunt at the Masters. “To play late on the weekends in Augusta, perfect weather, the golf course just stupendous today, it couldn’t have been any better.”
Mickelson rolled into Augusta National believing this was possible.
“I think driving down Magnolia Lane is rejuvenating,” Mickelson said at week’s start. “It gives me a new energy. It's exciting, and I think that energy helps me work hard, play hard and focus better and play my best.”
He wasn’t kidding.
Majors, in general, bring the best out of Mickelson now. He finished second to McIlroy at the PGA Championship in August. That was his only top-10 in a PGA Tour event in 2014. His last victory anywhere in the world was the British Open in July of 2013. Mickelson has finished first or second in three of his last seven starts in majors.
Mickelson wore pink Sunday in honor of Palmer, who made so many brilliant Sunday charges at the Masters with his bold play. Mickelson is known for the same risk-loving style of play.
“It's not my color, it doesn't look good on me, and I don't wear it well, but I had a premonition after spending time with Arnold Palmer,” Mickelson said. “He likes to wear this color. I just had a feeling that I needed to make a move, and I had it in the bag and pulled it out.”
Eight back at day’s start, Mickelson got himself within four shots of Spieth, burying a dramatic 60-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole.
“It’s crazy to make that putt,” Mickelson said. “I’m just trying to two putt it.”
Mickelson lost some momentum making bogey at the 17th, but he got some help from a stumbling Spieth at the end to stay within reach.
Mickelson said he’ll be looking to a favorite color to inspire him to another bold Sunday finish.
“I like to wear dark colors on Sunday,” Mickelson said. “I've won three times here wearing black shirts, so I'll wear a black shirt tomorrow. It also helps me get more aggressive. Studies have shown NFL teams, when they wear black, they have more penalties. That's what I need to do tomorrow, play more aggressive.”
Mickelson’s birdie at the 16th looked as if it would get him in the final pairing with Spieth, but his bogey puts him out with Charley Hoffman in the group directly in front of Spieth. That’s where Mickelson said he prefers to be.
“I was hoping to be the group in front [of Spieth], and if I can start posting some birdies, I think it's much more difficult to follow than it is to lead,” he said.
Mickelson respects Spieth and believes he will be tough to beat.
“He would just be a great champion,” Mickelson said. “He's just a classy guy. He just represents the game very well and at a very young age, and he's just got a lot of game.
“I'm going to try to stop him, but we'll see how it goes.”