He knew, then, to give it a little extra up the hill. He knew, too, that it would come back right, just a hair. When it settled gently over the lip, the roar told Hanson in the group ahead — indeed, it told everyone on the grounds — what was up. For the first time, Mickelson shared the lead.
“That’s the back nine at Augusta in a nutshell right there,” said Hunter Mahan, also at 4 under. “You can be kind of hanging in there, kind of just 2 under, he’s probably in 13th place or whatever, and then all of a sudden has a good stretch there and he’s in first. That’s very Phil and that’s very Augusta.”
More Phil: his third shot at the par-5 15th, from behind the green. He pulled a 64-degree wedge. Mis-hit it, and it could end up directly in the water on the other side of the green. Yet he cranked up a full swing.
“It wasn’t the safest shot,” he said. But it traveled further skyward than it did across the earth, and settled softly, six feet from the pin. The resulting birdie brought another explosion.
“The crowds are so much behind Phil,” Hanson said. Yet the 34-year-old Swede stood steadfast. He birdied 14 and 15, then snaked a 40-foot birdie putt across 17 to get to 8 under, alone in the lead. At 18, he blistered a 207-yard 6-iron up the hill to a foot — maybe — for the birdie that earned him a standing ovation.
“It’s very difficult to try to follow those kind of birdies,” Mickelson said, “when you’re watching it right in front of you.”
Yet Mickelson did. In one sense, it’s because he executed, and his final swing was a masterful draw with a 7-iron at 18, setting up his last birdie. But in another, it’s because when he rises in Augusta, the feelings are so positive, so pure.
“I love it here,” Mickelson said. “And I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters. It’s the greatest thing in professional golf.”
Other than, of course, winning. Both feelings, for Mickelson, are so familiar. For Hanson, for Oosthuizen — for Watson and Kuchar and Harrington and Mahan — they are almost foreign concepts at Augusta.
“He would be the big-time favorite to win,” Hanson said.
On another Sunday morning at another Masters, that is Mickelson’s position. He will, in so many ways, embrace it like he embraces nothing else.