After 10 holes on Saturday, Phil Mickelson led Brooks Koepka by five shots and appeared to be cruising towards an historic win at the PGA Championship.
But then the 50-year old suddenly went into a tailspin: he missed a makeable birdie at the par-5 11th, bogeyed 12 and then drilled his tee shot into the water on 13, leading to a double.
His five shot lead was suddenly just one.
Mickelson cited a loss of focus for his mid-round hiccup.
“So, yeah, it’s just an example of losing the feel and the picture of the shot, and I get a little bit jumpy, a little bit fast from the top, and it just — when that happens I get narrow and I end up flipping it,” said Mickelson.
“So those two swings were more a product of not staying or keeping the feel and the focus of the shot.
“And so that’s just a small little thing that I need to iron out.”
Meanwhile, Koepka – the big-game specialist – was his typical cool cat self, and after a birdie on the par-5 16th he’d joined Mickelson atop the leaderboard at 7-under par.
As Mickelson continued to walk a tight rope down the stretch, Koepka had a rare slip up with a bogey on 18 to card 70, and settle on 6 under.
Mickelson, playing behind Koepka and running on fumes at this point, was seemingly carried to the finish line by the raucous galleries at Kiawah. He paid them back with one of his patented flop shots to save par on 18, and finish 54 holes on 7 under, one clear of his Sunday playing partner.
“I just know I’m having a lot of fun and I’m very appreciative of the way the people have been supportive,” said Mickelson, giving a nod to the boisterous support he’s received this week in South Carolina.
The two American golf legends, owners of nine majors between them, will be paired together in the final round of the 103rd PGA, where each can make all kinds of history: Phil as the oldest major winner in history (50), and Brooks as the owner of the best run in the PGA Championship’s stroke-play era – three wins in four years.
“It’ll be nice,” said Koepka, when told he’d be in the final pairing with Mickelson.
“At least I can see what Phil is doing and then I don’t have to turn back and look and see what he’s up to.
“Looking forward to it. Got a chance, and everybody will be in front of me so I know what I’ve got to do.”
And don’t forget about 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen, who was paired with Mickelson on Saturday. The South African struggled with the putter but salvaged a 72, and is only two shots back at 5 under.
“Probably the worst I’ve played in a while,” Oosthuizen said. “I was just sort of fighting to stay in it and at the end there, started judging the greens wrong and everything just fell apart.
“All in all, two behind going into Sunday, I’ve got to take a lot of positives out of that.”
Kevin Streelman shot 70 and was alone in fourth on 4-under par, one ahead of South Africans Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who matched 72s.
A dream Sunday awaits.
2021 PGA Championship
Top-10 Leaders: Round 3
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 3)
1. Phil Mickelson -7 (-3)
2. Brooks Koepka -6 (-2)
3. Louis Oosthuizen -5 (E)
4. Kevin Streelman -4 (-2)
5. Chris Bezuidenhout -3 (-1)
5. Branden Grace -3 (-1)
7. Bryson DeChambeau -2 (-1)
7. Joaquin Niemann -2 (-1)
7. Gary Woodland -2 (E)