Mickelson leads, with big names just behind

Updated: April 9, 2006, 1:22 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson takes a one-shot lead into the final round of The Masters more for what he didn't do Sunday morning than what he did. In chilly, windy conditions that felt more like June in Chicago than April in Augusta, Mickelson played steady golf, shot even par on the back nine, 70 for the third round and finished at 4-under 212. He narrowly leads just about anyone you've ever heard of.

One stroke over second-round leader Chad Campbell and Fred Couples. Two strokes over a group of six that includes Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. Three strokes over Retief Goosen and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Four strokes over a group of four that includes Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, who began the third round Saturday morning as the dewsweeper, playing with an Augusta National member. Furyk shot a 68 on Saturday and moved from a tie for 44th to a tie for 12th.

"It's basically going to be a one-round shootout, 10 or 15 guys," Mickelson said of the final round.

Judging by the leaderboard, this might be the Sunday that breaks the streak of 15 consecutive years in which the leader has come from the final pairing.

"I sure like that stat now. Two days ago I didn't put much credence in it. Now I really think that's going to be a valid stat," Mickelson said with a grin.

For the first time since Raymond Floyd and Craig Stadler in 1983, a pair of former Masters champions make up the final twosome. Before Mickelson conducted his post-round interview Sunday morning, he ducked into the scoring building and spoke briefly with Couples.

With four former Masters champions separated by two strokes at the top of the leaderboard, the smart money would bet on the winner putting on a green jacket that already belongs to him.

"Everybody wants to win this tournament so bad," Mickelson said after he finished his third-round 70 Sunday morning. "I know the times before I had won it, I could feel myself press a little and force things and not let it happen. Now that I've won it, I feel like I get a chance to win two, which is a bonus. Go out and free-wheel it and play loose, and not tight. That could be a benefit. There are a few other guys who have won this tournament who are in the same situation."

The Augusta National Golf Club remained softer Sunday than it had been before the thunderstorm that interrupted play for four-plus hours Sunday. However, swirling winds took up the defense of the course and did quite well, thank you. After Tim Clark birdied two of his first three holes to get to 7 under, the South African failed to make a birdie the rest of the morning. He shot 40 on the back and finished at 2 under.

"Playing with the lead wasn't that easy out here," Clark said. "I feel I'll be more comfortable a couple back. I'll be playing more aggressive like I did yesterday."

Not even Woods could escape the capriciousness of the winds. A year ago, Woods resumed his third round on the 10th tee Sunday morning and birdied the first four holes. He finished the round with a three-stroke lead. This year, on the back nine, Woods hit in the water twice (No. 11 and No. 15), three-putted twice (No. 14 and No. 16), and made bogeys on all four of those holes.

Woods appeared really frustrated after missing the four-footer for par at No. 14. After caddie Steve Williams replaced the flagstick, Woods returned to the position of his par putt and took four practice strokes before leaving for the 15th tee.

Just when it appeared as if he would recede into the pack, he became Woods again. He made a clutch putt for an up-and-down par at No. 17, then birdied No. 18 to get back to two-under and the leaders came back to him.

"With the wind picking up, it should be quite an interesting afternoon," Woods said.

Mickelson said that "A good, low round is out there if you go get it." With the world's greatest golfers poised at the starting line, it stands to reason someone will.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com