Phil Mickelson has back-to-back eagles at Masters to help challenge for lead
Lee Westwood appeared to be pulling away, the only player on the Masters leaderboard heading in the right direction Saturday.
Then, just like that, Phil Mickelson turned Moving Day upside down.
Lefty became only the third player in Augusta National history to make back-to-back eagles, and came within 6 inches of pulling off another, to steal the attention away from Westwood with one of the most remarkable three-hole stretches this ol' place has ever seen.
They were cheering on the back nine as loud as ever — and it wasn't even Sunday.
"There were roars going up all over the place," Mickelson said. "You couldn't figure out who was doing what because the roars were happening simultaneously. It was a really fun day to see the leaderboard change. The thing was, the pins were tough ... but the greens were really receptive, so you could really get at some."
Westwood settled for hanging on to the lead, shooting a third straight score in the 60s to maintain a one-stroke edge over Mickelson heading to what shapes up to be a thrilling final round.
Tiger Woods isn't out of it, either. Even though he sprayed the ball all over the place, hitting one shot from out of the wrong fairway, he managed to shoot 70 and is only four strokes behind Westwood.
Mickelson wiped out a five-shot deficit to make himself a prime contender for a third green jacket. He stumbled a bit with a three-putt bogey at No. 17, but managed to get up and down after missing the green at the final hole for a 5-under 67.
Westwood shot 68 for a 12-under 204 through 54 holes, now in the lead all by himself after coming into the day sharing the top spot with fellow Englishman Ian Poulter. Westwood reclaimed the top spot on the scoreboard with a two-putt birdie at the 15th, and pulled out a par on the final hole after driving into a bunker.
Westwood is eager to win his first major championship after finishing third at the last two.
"I think I'm ready," he said. "I felt very calm out there today. I was confident in what I was doing."
Even though Westwood was leading at the end of the day, this round figured to be remembered for Mickelson's dazzling play on the back side.
It started at the par-5 13th, where he reached the green in two shots, then rolled in an 8-foot putt for eagle.
The next hole was really extraordinary. From 139 yards away, in the middle of the fairway, he struck a 9-iron that plopped down left of the flag and spun back into the cup for a 2. He joined Dan Pohl (1982) and Dustin Johnson (2009) as the only players to make consecutive eagles at the Masters.
How about three in a row? Mickelson sure gave it a run, knocking a wedge over the pond at the par-5 15th, the ball nuzzling the hole while the patrons tried to will it home with their cheers.
Mickelson was beaming as he walked up to the green for the tap-in birdie that gave him his first outright lead of the tournament.
"I haven't played this well in a long time," Mickelson said. "I feel my game is as good as it's been. I love this tournament more than any other. I love being in contention on Sunday."
Woods was hurt by a shaky putter and some loose shots off the tee, but he offset five bogeys with seven birdies.
"Tiger, you suck," he said to himself at one point — the sort of outburst he had vowed to tone down in his return to the game after a five-month layoff due to a sex scandal.
Then, Woods ripped off three back-to-back birdies over the same stretch of holes that Mickelson dominated. A wild drive off the 17th tee led to his fifth bogey of the round, but he came back with a brilliant approach shot at the final hole for a birdie that gave him his second straight 70 and 208 overall.
"I was fighting it all day," Woods said. "I really struggled with the pace of the greens. I was fighting my swing. It was a tough day."
But he was right in the mix heading to Sunday, tied with K.J. Choi for third and playing again in the next-to-last group.
"I just wanted to put myself in contention, and I did that," Woods said. "If I have a good round tomorrow, you never know."
Fifty-year-old Fred Couples, who led after the first round, bounced back from a disappointing 75 on Friday with a birdie at the 14th and a chip-in eagle at 15 on his way to a 68. He climbed into fifth place, four shots behind Mickelson, and at least has a shot at becoming the oldest winner in Masters history.
"I hit the ball extremely well today — 68 is a very good score," said Couples, who deals with chronic back problems by wearing tennis shoes and no socks. "I have a shot tomorrow if I can shoot a crazy score. We'll see what happens."
Poulter started the day tied with Westwood tied for the 36-hole lead but went the wrong way. He struggled to a 74, going from co-leader to seven shots behind in a tie at 210 with Ricky Barnes (72) and Hunter Mahan (68).
"There's a long way to go," Woods said. "It's only Saturday."
-- Associated Press
Photo: Phil Mickelson watches his shot from the fairway at No. 8 on Saturday. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images