Mickelson six back but excited for Sunday shootout

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March 31, 2012
Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM contributor

HUMBLE, Texas -- You see a three-putt from 22 feet. A coulda-shoulda eagle that turned into a par.

Phil Mickelson sees what he did wrong.

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You see putts zipping past the lip. He sees potential.

You see another 70 beside his name and six shots separating him from leader Louis Oosthuizen. He sees a chance to go low in the final round.

Welcome to Mickel-land. He's already zipped to Augusta for a few days to get a good vibe for next week. He's changed putters just because he sometimes does that when his lines get a little off.

You see a long way to go. To lighting it up. To another closing 65 at Redstone? And a successful defense of his 2011 Shell Houston Open title?

He says simply, "I'm so close to playing great."

For a guy six shots back, Mickelson was pumped. And not just because he was heading to dinner with good friend Dr. Tom Buchholz, the world-class radiation oncologist who is part of both Amy and Mary Mickelson's care team at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

He was pumped. Saw something, felt something. We don't know. But he was confident.

"I know I need to shoot a really low round out here, but I know it's there,'' he said. "I know that I can do it. I've done it. But I know that with the conditions right now, you can shoot 6, 7, 8, 9 under par, and hopefully that's what I'm going to be shooting for tomorrow.''

It's what some guys shot Saturday. On a day when leader Louis Oosthuizen shot his second straight 66 and is two shots clear of the field at 17 under. Hunter Mahan threw out the day's low round of 65 to get to minus-15 and Carl Pettersson shot 67 for his 202 and a tie with Brian Davis.

Mickelson was watching putts burn the edge and settling in at 205 --- six back of Oosthuizen with Ryan Palmer and Keegan Bradley.

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Projected points
The race for spots in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup continues this week. Click to see who's making moves. Projections

"Instead of getting frustrated, I came in contact and hit more good shots,'' he said. "I gave myself good opportunities. I'm really pleased the way I played the first three rounds. Hopefully I can get a really hot round tomorrow."

He was almost as pumped as he was a year ago, he was tied for the lead with Scott Verplank going into the final round. And, oh, did we mention he only missed one fairway Saturday?

"I'm pleased with how I played, but I'm disappointed in the score,'' he said. "I need to go a little bit lower. I feel like I'm playing well to where I can get a really hot round out here. I did it last year, and I thought I'm even playing better to where if I get off to a good start or make a few putts, I feel like I can really get it going tomorrow.''

Even if he does, it won't be easy.

The leaderboard is a mine field. Oosthuizen, the former British Open champ, caught fire after a bogey-bogey start Saturday and four straight birdies on the back nine at 12, 13, 14 and 15, then added another at 17 for his 65. He turned his season around two weeks ago at the Transitions Championship and is focused.

Mahan, who birdied four of his first seven holes, is playing just a pinch below the level he was earlier this year when he won the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. He's also got a history here. He's finished in the top eight here three times in the last five SHOs and he feels like a guy on a hot streak.

"It's difficult out there because our mind always wants to shoot forward and go to 18 and see what kind of round you can get in and look at the leader board and try to figure all these numbers in your head,'' Mahan said. "But the more I can stay in the moment, just try hit the next shot good, it's one of those things where you just realize, oh, my gosh I'm 6-, 7-under, I didn't even think about it. I'm just trying to hit the next shot good.''

Who isn't? Especially when a final round is shaping up like this one -- a Texas-sized shootout.

Pettersson has been steady and Bradley is solid. Palmer is a big hitter with his sights on Augusta and Brian Davis and James Driscoll are guys playing well and looking for --- again --- their first PGA TOUR wins and a potential invitation to Augusta.

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There's no predicting what will happen. The fairways are still a bit soggy from Thursday's thunderstorms, so it could be advantage to the long hitters. Or the ones, like Mickelson, who are finding them.

Like every week, it all comes down to who executes. Who makes the putts. Who focuses on the present --- not on a Monday drive down Magnolia Lane.

Mickelson is the huge name on the board. He's just about the only guy in the field who could supplant Fred Couples as the man here at the SHO. One of the guys you know --- after 40 wins --- who can take the final-round heat.

He's also a guy, this week, with infinite patience.

He hit shots at 10, 11 and 12 --- shots where he needed something to happen -- and he walked away with three pars.

"I thought all of them were going to go in,'' he said. "They all missed just barely, and instead of letting it get to me, I fought hard and birdied 13, hung tough.

"Those are going to have to fall tomorrow,'' he said, pausing to grin, "and I think they might.''

A second later, he changed gears and was talking about making a little magic in a probable H-O-R-S-E rematch with Buchholz on the driveway Saturday night. He's defending there too.

"I don't know if he's practicing,'' Mickelson said, "but he needs to."

With that, Mickelson signed a few autographs and headed out.

He was still grinning. Still talking about being close to lighting it up.

We just wonder if it will be on the court or the course. Or maybe both.

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