But after a typically frenzied Saturday at the Masters sorted itself out — and that took some doing, because at least seven different players had, at one point, at least a share of the lead — that’s who was left. Mickelson, the three-time Masters champion, shot a third-round 66 to get to 8 under par for the tournament. He will chase Hanson, the Swede who has only once finished in the top 10 at a major but who posted a sterling 65 Saturday to get to 9-under 207.
It all left them in two decidedly different places: comfort and consternation.
“It’s going to be tough,” Hanson said. “I’ve been up on the leader board a few times, but I’ve never led in anything like this.”
How to spend those morning hours? What to eat for breakfast? How to change your routine? Mickelson knows it all. His Saturday — a round in which he opened with nine straight pars, then shot a Mickelson-esque 30 on the back — only means something if he follows it Sunday.
“As great and as fun a round as this was,” he said, “it just makes it possible to have something really special tomorrow.”
They are not the only two who have the chance to win, and at various points Saturday, it was impossible to discern a favorite. The cast of characters who held at least a share of the lead Saturday, in order of appearance: Fred Couples, Jason Dufner, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen, Mickelson and Hanson. By Saturday’s end, eight players were within five shots of Hanson’s lead, theoretically with excellent opportunities. Oosthuizen’s 69 left him two back at 7 under, Watson’s 70 put him another shot back, Kuchar’s 70 a shot after that.
“In the back of your mind,” Watson said, “you know it’s doable.”
Yet there was one looming figure, only one player in the top 10 who has won here before. When dawn breaks Sunday, Mickelson will serve as the dominant presence — particularly here.
“You only have to look at the way Phil has won some of his majors,” said three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, in the group at 4 under. “You’ve got to take on golf shots. Fortune favors the brave, at times, here.”
At Augusta, there is none braver, none bolder than Mickelson. On Thursday, he was 4 over through 10 holes, coming off a triple bogey, and the week could have been lost. Instead, he salvaged it, grinding out a 74. When putts didn’t fall on the front side Saturday, he shrugged it off, and used birdies at 10 and 12 to pull within two of the lead, then shared by Kuchar and Oosthuizen.