By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
HUMBLE, Texas – And there was a time you thought this Shell Houston Open might come down to the game’s most famous lefty and a mop-headed Northern Irishman.
So much for that scenario.
Yes Phil Mickelson still has a shot to win his second Shell Houston Open, but at the moment, he’s on the outside looking in at:
• three bald – by choice as well as their own hands – guys on the first lines of the leader board at Redstone
• a Monday qualifier who couldn’t get into last week’s Web.com Tour tournament, but has a chance to win his first PGA TOUR event Sunday
• a long-hitting afterthought from Xavier
• and, last but not least, the man who made Bill Murray’s week a few years ago at Pebble Beach.
Whew. And did we mention there are a total of 15 players within two shots of third-round leaders Stewart Cink and Bill Haas and their close-shaven domes?
And 25 players within six shots, including Mickelson?
Oh my. Gentlemen, find the speed on the greens and groove those swings. We have a Texas-sized shootout on our hands on Easter Sunday.
“It's a little bit easier because it almost forces you by the nature of it to really sort of be inward and focus on what you're doing and not what somebody else is doing,’’ said Cink, who is looking for his first win since the 2009 British Open and is making just his third start ever in Houston.
“When there's just a couple scattered around the lead, you got a couple strokes between the next several guys, you feel a little bit more tendency to get into the future a little bit and try to control things. When it's a log jam like this, I believe it's easier to sort of focus on your thing and be a little bit more efficient. The vast, vast majority of us work better is by sort of just being inward.’’
As the sun dipped below the horizon Saturday afternoon, Cink and Haas were telling stories and sitting at there tied at 11-under. Ben Crane, the man behind the “Golf Boys” music videos and Cink’s housemate this week, was a shot back, tied with former AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am champ D.A. Points, qualifier Steve Wheatcroft and Jason Kokrak.
Next up? Lee Westwood led a pack at 9-under that includes former Masters champ Angel Cabrera, former British Open champ Louis Ooosthuizen, former PGA champ Keegan Bradley and Bud Cauley to name just a few. Mickelson, after a third-round 67, is in a group at 210.
On a day when everyone wondered if the wind would blow in the afternoon and separate the field, it died down and the putts started falling.
“Tomorrow you're going to have to play very well,’’ said Haas, whose dad Jay won the 1987 Houston Open at The Woodlands TPC. “There’s been low scores this week. I don't know what the weather is going to be tomorrow. Heard some storms may be coming, but certainly going to have to shoot a score under par. You can't just hang on and hope everybody else will fall back.’’
Even though his dad won on the other course, Haas expects to talk or text Jay tonight -- about basketball and golf. “He’ll probably say be patient, probably and have fun.’’
Getting some sleep won’t hurt either.
“Being up there near the lead, you maybe don't sleep as much tonight because you're thinking about it and excited and anxious and want to do well,’’ Haas said. “There's nothing better. It's the reason we play. You know, more times than not, maybe it doesn't happen -- doesn't work out in your favor, but, you know, that's okay. Just being there is a lot of fun.’’
There’s been a lot of that at the Cink-Crane rental this week. The Crane kids are serenading Cink -- as are the fans -- with Crane’s “I got a drippy faucet on my Stewie, Stewie Cink” line from the Golf Boys 2.0 video. And, of course, they both participated in the SHO’s Crazy Sock Day Saturday.
Cink wore one neon orange and one neon green sock.
“I didn’t realize it was Crazy Sock Day until the 10th hole,’’ he deadpanned.
Everyone, however, knows the Redstone course won’t be easy Sunday. Overcast conditions have kept the greens from getting brown and ultra-slick. No one knows what the final round will bring.
Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and John Merrick are the only players inside the top 26 who have a win this year and everyone has been working his game, either to get into contention or prepare for Augusta. And 16 of them are still trying to play their way into the first major of the year.
Six of them are looking for their first TOUR win, period.
Crane, whose strong faith would make an Easter Sunday win even more special, pretty much summed up the feelings of the leaderboard late Saturday.
“I've not kind of put it together this year yet, and so I'm thankful to be in this spot, see some progress in my game, and certainly I'll be ready tomorrow,’’ he said. “I’m just excited to just get another round in ... I'm excited to go.’’