Oosthuizen goes walking after his 20-foot par putt, but only because he instantly knew he’d left it short. Bogey. Mickelson then tickles his downhill right-to-left swinger a dimple width’s wide left. A double, and this is a painful 5-5-6 run. If Koepka makes his birdie putt on 14, Mickelson’s five-shot lead will have totally evaporated in the space of 40 minutes. This is golf.
Mickelson’s tee shot didn’t cross, so he tees up again, splitting the fairway this time. Oosthuizen can drop up the hole, and sends his third into the heart of the green. Mickelson then lashes an iron, his fourth shot, straight at the flag. He’s got an eight-foot chance to limit the damage of that duck-hook off the tee to bogey.
Birdie for Bryson DeChambeau at 18, and he’s signing for a 71. He’s -2, and given the travails of Mickelson and Oosthuizen, not out of this yet! Ditto the aforementioned Matsuyama. Back on the 13th green, it’s a bogey for Grace and par for Koepka, the latter getting over his disappointment by sticking his tee shot at 14 to ten feet.
Matsuyama ends up with double bogey on 13, and that’s four shots gone in three holes. Suddenly, back-to-back major championships are beginning to look like a pipe dream for the Masters winner. He’s -1. Coming up behind, Grace flies his approach into the drink … and this hole looks like claiming yet another pair of victims as on the tee, Oosthuizen and Mickelson both send their drives into the hazard crossing the hole!
… and suddenly the picture looks a whole lot different, as Oosthuizen, having sent his second at 12 over the flag to ten feet, rolls in for birdie. Mickelson is still in very good nick, but this was a five-shot lead 30 minutes ago!
-9: Mickelson (12)
-7: Oosthuizen (12)
-6: Koepka (12)
Mickelson’s wedge in on 12 isn’t all that. Short and left, and he’s left with a 25-footer to save his par. Unlikely, you’d think, and indeed he doesn’t make it, but only for the want of one turn of the ball. So unlucky, but that’s punishment for his travails back down the hole. His first bogey of the day, and he slips to -9.
Matsuyama, coming off the back of consecutive bogeys, is struggling with his game all of a sudden. His tee shot at 13 finds deep rough to the left of the hole; his second caroms off a poor punter and disappears into a miniature jungle atop a bank. He can only slash out, short of the dancefloor, and the Masters champion’s PGA bid is currently hanging from a shoogly peg.
Mickelson doesn’t have much of a stance in the sandy area, and is forced to take a big sup of medicine. Gulp. Out he wedges, back onto the fairway. He’ll need to get up and down from 120 yards to save his par. Meanwhile on 17, DeChambeau ends up with double bogey, though on balance that’s not a bad outcome having sent his third from the dropzone into the sand. He’s -1.
Mickelson’s tee shot at 12 finds a fairway “bunker”. For the first time today, he’s suffering a little turbulence. He might also have to wrestle Brooks Koepka soon, because after a quiet front nine, he’s just followed up birdie at 10 with another up on the 12th green. A 20-foot right-to-left breaker, and he joins Oosthuizen in second place at -6. Suddenly, “just four clear” doesn’t sound quite so flippant.
Back on 11, Oosthuizen wedges his third to seven feet, and for the first time today, the 38-year-old South African is in credit for his round. He’s -6. Meanwhile Mickelson bumps his chip up from the front to six feet, but his putting radar is off beam for once, and it’s just par. Suddenly the gap is only four. Only four!
-10: Mickelson (11)
-6: Oosthuizen (11)
-5: Koepka (11)
-4: Streelman (13), Grace (11)
-3: DeChambeau (16), Matsuyama (12)
A long, uncharacteristic run of pars for Bryson DeChambeau ends when he drains a birdie putt across 16. He’s -3 … but then sends his tee shot at the par-three 17th into the drink. Christiaan Bezuidenhout drops back from there, though, with bogey at 13. And it’s back-to-back dropped shots for Hideki Matsuyama, the latest bogey at 12, and he slips to -3.
Mickelson lashes another long iron into a par-five. His effort at 11 isn’t quite as stellar as the one he creamed at 2, a couple of yards shy of making the green, but he’s in good nick nonetheless. Meanwhile it’s back-to-back birdies for Charley Hoffman at 15 and 16, and he leaps into the top ten at -2. And he’s joined there by Paul Casey, who rattles in a birdie putt on the par-three 14th.
Branden Grace and Brooks Koepka make a meal of the par-five 11th. Both find themselves in thick cabbage to the right of the green; neither manage to manufacture a decent chip. It costs Koepka his birdie; it costs Grace his par. Mickelson’s surge is messing with everyone’s head.
An extremely disappointing – and careless – bogey six on 11 for Matsuyama. Punishment for missing the green with wedge in hand. But it’s back-to-back birdies for his partner Bezuidenhout, who is back to where he started the day at -3. Meanwhile on 10, Mickelson lines up yet another birdie chance … and steers the most gentle of left-to-right sliders into the cup! The 2005 champ is five clear … though there are still 26 holes to traverse, so let’s try to keep everything in perspective. It’s not easy, though, is it?!
-10: Mickelson (10)
-5: Grace (10), Koepka (10), Oosthuizen (10)
-4: Streelman (12), Matsuyama (11)
-3: Bezuidenhout (11)
A huge break for Oosthuizen, whose drive just avoids topping into the drink. He’s able to whip a short iron onto the front edge of the green. Mickelson, from the centre of the fairway, swishes his wedge, twirls it like a baton, and watches it grip softly, eight feet from the flag. The exhibition continues. He’s feeling it this week!
Gary Woodland finds himself out of position coming down 11, having sent his drive into rough down the left. But he eventually makes it to the green in regulation, then rolls in a slightly bumpy, but otherwise unerring, 25-foot birdie putt into the cup. After that double at 6, the 2019 US Open champion is right back in the mix now!
Koepka makes up for that poor miss on the 9th green by rattling one in from 12 feet on 10. He moves back into a tie for second. Back on the tee, Mickelson splits the fairway with another monster drive but Oosthuizen sends his into a hazard down the right.
-9: Mickelson (9)
-5: Matsuyama (10), Koepka (10), Grace (10), Oosthuizen (9)
-4: Streelman (11)
-3: Woodland (10)
There was an unheralded runner-up here in 2012: David Lynn, who did absolutely nothing in the majors otherwise. Kevin Streelman isn’t quite as big an underdog – he’s got a tie for second at the Players on his CV for a start – but very few people would have mentioned his name on Thursday morning. He’s just played one of the shots of the week at 11, though, from 271 yards to 14 feet. He sends his eagle putt on the right line, too, but it’s one joule shy of enough energy, and stops on the lip. Birdie, though, and he joins Brooks Koepka in a tie for second at -4.
Mickelson’s ball found the sand … as did Oosthuizen’s, and they’re other, messing with each other’s stance. So the referee is called as Mickelson moves his ball, Oosthuizen plays, then everyone tries to recreate Lefty’s original lie. Once it all comes down, both players have splashed close, and tidied up for their pars. Oosthuizen turns in 36, Mickelson in a scarcely believable 32.
Mickelson’s second into 9, and it’s his first big mistake of the day. Short and left of the green, it takes a bad bounce to the left and disappears from view. He’ll be hoping that’s in the bunker and not snagged in the filthy rough. The television coverage then switches to live footage of a heron spearing a fish from the nearby ocean, then gulping it down its long, elegant neck with glee. Memories – like I need an excuse – of this Kiawah classic from this very tourney in 2012: Croc v Snake.
Up on the 9th green, Koepka drops another stroke, the result of finding the waste sand to the left of the green, and chipping up in a very average style. He turns in 36, seriously disappointing given Mickelson’s antics. A birdie for Woodland at 10, and he moves back to -3. And on 18, the defending champion Collin Morikawa pars to sign for an underwhelming 74. He’s +3, and he’ll always have Harding Park.
Mickelson stripes a 3-wood down the middle of 9. This is surreal. Even in his heyday, Lefty would spray it all over the place from the tee box. Now he’s acting like mid-80s Calvin Peete. It’s not as if he’s holding back, either. Just timing everything sweetly. Long may it continue. The rest of the field, however, will be hoping for some sort of return to the norm.
A sad end to Tony Finau’s round. He’d been going along nicely, four under through 12, but a subsequent string of pars was snapped by an unwelcome bogey-bogey finish. A 70, and he’s level par through 54 holes.
Oosthuizen makes up for the dreadful miss on the previous green by stroking his tee shot at the par-three 8th pin high, then rolling in the putt. The birdie takes him up to -5. It’s a no-fuss two-putt par from 50 feet from Mickelson, meanwhile, as the Master golfer Matsuyama pars 9 and turns in 34.
Oosthuizen, deafened by the relentless clatter of the Mickelson bandwagon, yips a short birdie putt having splashed out wonderfully from sand to three feet. Up on 8, Grace’s tee shot nearly topples off the back, but stays on the fringe and he rakes in the birdie putt to move to a share of second.
-9: Mickelson (7)
-5: Matsuyama (8), Grace (8), Koepka (8)
-4: Oosthuizen (7)
Mickelson’s eagle putt is given a 14 percent chance by the boffins … and he nearly makes it, stroking the left-to-right gentle curler to within a dimple of dropping. In frustration, he strikes the classic Miles Davis pose – knees bent, shoulders back – but is soon smiling again as he taps in for his fourth birdie in six holes. He moves to -9, and this is becoming slightly – but deliciously – absurd.
Matsuyama makes his two at 8, tidying up from a couple of feet. Deserved reward for a sensational iron. He joins Koepka in second place, staying on Mickelson’s tail. But having said that, Mickelson, having blootered a stunning drive down the middle of the par-five 7th, whistles a long iron pin high. He’ll have a look at eagle from 25 feet!
-8: Mickelson (6)
-5: Matsuyama (8), Koepka (7)
-4: Grace (7), Oosthuizen (6)
-3: Streelman (9)
Hideki Matsuyama saves his par on 7 with a staunch 15-footer, then builds on it by clipping his tee shot at the par-three 8th close. A three-putt double-bogey for Will Zalatoris on 13, and he slips back to level par. Then on 7, Brooks Koepka leaves an eagle effort well short, but knocks in the six footer he’d carelessly left himself, and moves back to -5, three off Lefty’s lead.
It’s a 78 today for the supple PGA club pro Brad Marek. He was going so well, too, until running up a quintuple-bogey eight at 17. Having flown his tee shot into the sandy area up to the left, he sent two chips down the green and into the drink. He ends the third round at +8, six behind fellow club pro and cut survivor Ben Cook at +2.
Another birdie for Phil Mickelson! He guides in his left-to-right slider on 6, and that’s one hell of a birdie after the state of his drive. The 50-year-old living legend is four clear at the top! Just 30 holes away from history.
-8: Mickelson (6)
-4: Matsuyama (6), Koepka (6), Oosthuizen (5)
So much for getting ragged. From the thick rough down the right, and with bunkers guarding either side of the green, Mickelson sends a high draw into the heart of the green, setting up another decent chance for birdie. Meanwhile trouble for Matsuyama down a bank to the right of the 7th green. He bumps up with driver, but overcooks it, and he’ll be left with a 15-footer coming back to salvage his par.
After that showboating start, Mickelson is getting a little ragged. He’s had to nail two nervy par putts in a row, and now flays his drive into the thick oomska down the right of 6. But up on the green, Grace can’t get up and down from the back, and he slips to -3, while Koepka’s short par putt horseshoes out … and suddenly the lead is three again!
-7: Mickelson (5)
-4: Matsuyama (6), Koepka (6), Oosthuizen (5)
-3: Streelman (8), Grace (6)
Mickelson sends his tee shot at the par-three 5th to 20 feet. He then knocks the birdie putt four feet past. He tidies up, though he’s developed a habit of standing over those short ones for an absurdly long period of time before drawing the putter back, much to the dismay of putting guru Brad Faxon on Sky Sports. Still, it seems to be working more often than not at the moment. Any case, that’s another par, and another hole out of the way. Just 31 to go!
A three-putt bogey for Paul Casey on the par-three 8th. He slips to -1. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, having followed his opening bogey with another at 2, has steadied the ship a little with four pars in a row, but he’s -1. Joaquin Niemann had been heading the wrong way quickly, with bogeys at 4, 6 and 7, but birdie at 8 has brought him back to level par.
Woodland runs up a double on 6. He crashes back down the leaderboard to -2. Going the right way: Branden Grace with birdie at 5, and his playing partner Brooks Koepka, who also makes a two. Meanwhile on 4, Mickelson leaves his sand splash six feet short, but he guides the testing downhill dribbler into the cup to save his par.
-7: Mickelson (4)
-5: Koepka (5)
-4: Matsuyama (5), Grace (5), Oosthuizen (4)
-3: Streelman (6)
Mickelson isn’t the only fifty-something tearing it up this week. The US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker rolls in a monster for birdie at 18. The 54-year-old from Wisconsin – who led for a while on Sunday at Sahalee in 1998, only to be pipped by Vijay Singh – is signing for a superb 70. He’s +1.
Some trouble for Woodland on 6. Having found a penalty area down the right with his drive, he sends his third over the back, down a swale, and into the second cut. There’s not much green to play with up top. He’ll do well to limit the damage to bogey here. Meanwhile up on 12, Will Zalatoris steers in a 30-foot right-to-left curler for a birdie that brings him to -2.
You don’t see this too often: Mickelson refuses to play his second into 4 before the TV companies stop flying a camera drone nearby. He’s worried about hitting it. And perhaps the blood’s pumping a little too much right now, because once the buzzing menace buggers off, he sends his ball over the green and into the sand at the back.
Hideki Matsuyama isn’t likely to give up the chase, though. Having bounced back from bogey at 3 with birdie at 4, he nearly takes the flag out with his tee shot at 5 and tidies up for another bird. He’s -4, in a share of second, just three off Lefty’s lead.
This is already – like you need to be told – the Phil Mickelson Show. Don’t expect US network television to concentrate on too much else! Multiple views of his astonishing long iron into 2, then his absurd exhibition sand shot at 3, and now a booming drive that bounces this way and that, evading a couple of big bunkers, and finishing in Position A on 4. We have to be honest with ourselves: we’re already past the point where this isn’t going to be heartbreaking if/when it goes wrong … and there are still another 32 holes to play. It’s the hope that kills you.
Mickelson really does look in the mood. His drive at 3 finds the sand down the left, but from 100 yards he pitches his second four feet to the right of the flag. The ball takes one bounce past, then screws back to a couple of feet on the left. That’s effectively a trick shot. He allows himself a content smile, before wandering up to the green and tapping in for his second birdie of the day. Oosthuizen’s approach was decent under any normal circumstances, leaving a straight 15-foot birdie chance, but he only gives it 14 feet of juice, and Phil the Thrill has a three-shot lead!
-7: Mickelson (3)
-4: Woodland (5), Grace (3), Koepka (3), Oosthuizen (3)
Rickie Fowler can’t make it up the last unscathed. His second sails to the left of the green, and he can’t get up and down. But that’s still an excellent 69, and at level par he’s currently in the top 20. If he keeps this up, it’ll be his best showing on Tour for a fair while. The crowd support the popular Californian accordingly.
Mickelson can’t make the eagle putt, a pull to the right, and he seems a little irritated with himself. But birdie’s nothing to be sniffed at, as Oosthuizen would surely agree, his ten-foot chance stubbornly stopping on the edge. All of a sudden, Phil doubles his lead!
-6: Mickelson (2)
-4: Woodland (4), Grace (2), Koepka (2), Oosthuizen (2)
-2: Finau (13), DeChambeau (8), Streelman (5), Matsuyama (3)
Once they leave the green, Mickelson takes the stage. And what an entrance he makes! He whips a long iron from 270 yards pin high, and the crowd goes wild. He’ll have a good look at eagle from 12 feet or so. It’s fair to say he gave that a good skelp. One of those pure whip-cracks. The purest golf. A slow start for the Masters champ, though; bogey for Matsuyama on 3, and he slips to -2.
Branden Grace drains a monster on 2, and Mr 62 moves into second place. He’s given his partner Brooks Koepka a read, but for once the two-time champ looks a gift horse in the mouth. He leaves his putt up on the left, and it’s a par-par start for the new tournament favourite.