Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start on the front nine during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship and didn’t really let up on his way to a career-best nine-under, 63, at Quail Hollow Club. Mickelson, whose putter went cold on Friday, found his game on moving day to surge up the leaderboard, with a 54-hole total of 11-under.
Mickelson, who missed the cut at last month’s Masters, started his streak with birdies on nos. 3-6, added an eagle on no. 7 and then made another birdie on no. 8 to post a seven-under 29 on the front. He slowed down a bit on the back, rolling in only two birdies. However, Phil still impressed with his fine iron play and stellar wedge play, not to mention his smooth stroke on Saturday.
Mickelson couldn’t find much wrong in his game afterward and hopes to use it to springboard himself for the rest of the season.
“It was a very meaningful round for me today,” he said. “I was able to put everything together. I played well from tee to green. I hit the ball well, put it in play, I hit good iron shots and was able to capitalize on those shots with some good putts, and it feels good because I hadn’t really been able to put it all together this year, and it feels really it felt close, hasn’t felt far away, and to put it together today, it’s nice.”
He added it was the best all-around 18 holes he’d put together all season.
“Absolutely it was, start to finish,” said Mickelson when asked if it was his most complete round of the year. “I drove the ball well, hit good iron shots and the birdie opportunities I was able to capitalize on most of them.”
Mickelson rolled in a 30-footer on no. 4 and a 40-footer on no. 6 to keep the momentum in his round going.
“I made a couple of good ones early in the round that were long on holes 4 and 6 that really got me ahead of the round,” said Phil. “Then I took advantage of the birdie holes because there are good birdie holes out here that you will see guys take advantage of, like 13 and 14 or 14 and 15, those are excellent birdie holes, 10, 7 and 8. If you play those holes well, you can get this golf course. The other holes are tough.”
Phil only needed 25 putts on his way to a 63 today (as opposed to 34 putts when he shot 75 yesterday).
Mickelson hit a great shot into the par-3 13th with a 7-iron that led to a birdie, after disagreeing with his longtime faithful caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay on the club selection.
“I just saw a different shot,” said Phil, with a wry smile. “It was a pin back right and there was a little swale in line with the pin, and if I were to hit a shot right at it with, say, a 6-iron it was going to hit that swale and kick off the green, or I would have to play 20 feet away from the pin, which you know me, that’s not my thing. So I round hooked a 7-iron around the swale.
“Having to shut the face, the ball was going to go a lot longer, and I think it just kind of shocked him that, you know, the yardage was I don’t normally hit a 7-iron that far.”
Naturally. Classic Phil.
Mickelson closed with a fantastic up-and-down to end the day without a sour note and stay bogey-free. He hit his drive in the right fairway bunker near the lip and couldn’t reach the green from there. His second shot was about 25 yards short of the green just on the right edge of the fairway. He nearly knocked his pitch in the hole and made the two-and-a-half footer to save par with ease.
“It was a big momentum up and down,” said Phil. “I had a good tee shot there. That’s a very tough shot for me, because if I come out of it just a little bit, it’s in the water. I tried to take it right at the edge of the bunker, I missed it by 4 or 5 yards, and then it’s right up against the lip, so to be able to salvage that and finish this round off strong was a good plus.”
What was the difference between today and yesterday?
“Honestly, my game just didn’t feel that far off, and it just kind of clicked today,” said Mickelson. “Sometimes the ball just goes in the hole and sometimes it doesn’t. I didn’t feel like I was far off after yesterday’s round, I didn’t walk away very discouraged; I felt like I was pretty close, and I just came out today with a new energy and a new excitement and was able to put together a good round.”
Mickelson also said he’s not putting any pressure on getting his game together (though I’m sure the U.S. Open at Pinehurst is on his mind) — I’m sure the 63 didn’t hurt, but he maintains that he hasn’t felt far off, which is what he claimed at the Masters, too.
“Well, I’m not feeling pressure, to be honest,” said Phil. “I’ve taken it off a little bit; I’m not worried about the results. I’m not worried about winning. I know that my game is not that far off.
“Today is good evidence of that. Even yesterday when it was 3-over par round, the game didn’t feel that far off; I just wasn’t quite getting the ball in the hole, and that tells me that I don’t need to do anything drastic. I don’t need to change anything big, I just need to fine tune. I need to get my wedge and my short iron sharp again.
“I need to get my ball and play off the tee, and get that touch on the greens, and today I seemed to have ‘em all together.”
Mickelson has a few shots to make up and overcome the leaders tomorrow, which is something he’d really like to do since he’s never won at Quail Hollow.
“It’s fun being in contention,” he said. “Historically, here the winner has come from not the last group but from a few groups before, because it is more difficult to make some birdies when you have to make birdies here.
“When you know that you’re out in front of the leaders and you have a chance to kind of light up the board first, that’s an opportunity, and guys have typically done that here and won, and it’s been tougher to follow suit seeing those guys in front make birdies. If it happens that I’m not in the last group, that would be great. If I am in the last group, that would be great, too, doesn’t matter. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s round, and I love that I’m in it with a good chance.”
Luckily, Phil was right — J.B. Holmes birdied the 18th hole to get to 13-under (and Martin Flores is at 12-under), leaving Mickelson to overcome a two-shot deficit in the final round to capture his first win at the Wells Fargo Championship. However, it’s a packed ‘board and ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.
(Getty Images/Streeter Lecka)