BY GARY PLAYER
What a championship this Masters is turning out to be. Saturday’s third round gave us a whole new leaderboard.
Congratulations to Sweden’s Peter Hanson for his splendid 65 which gave him a one shot lead, but for me the round of the day came from the irrepressible Phil Mickelson.
As I said in my Laureus blog yesterday ‘don't rule out Phil Mickleson’. And was that ever the truth. After a modest front nine played in par today, he exploded with a six-under-par 30 for the back nine.
Amen Corner at Augusta has ended many ambitions, but it can also offer match-winning opportunities if you are pumped up enough to exploit it. And that was Phil. He birdied the 10th and the tricky short 12th, but for me the highlight of his round was the wonderful eagle on the 13th.
He knew how important that was and it led to two more birdies at 15 and 18. This was sport at its best. A great champion in action.
Watching Phil today you had to pinch yourself to remember that he started with a first round 74, which included a triple bogey seven.
Once again Louis Oosthuizen, my fellow South African, kept his challenge going to be just two behind Peter Hanson and one behind Phil.
And a special word for Ireland’s Padraig Harrington who had five birdies in the last six holes for a 68 to bring himself up the leaderboard. He has won two Open Champions and the US PGA, so he knows how to win a Major. He is an enthusiastic streak player who could get a run of birdies going again, so watch for him.
So who is going to win? Well four or five shots can easily be caught up on Masters Sunday. When I won the last of my three Masters titles in 1978, I came from seven shots behind and shot 64 to overtake Hubert Green.
But for someone to come through from a long way back, they are going to need Hanson, Mickelson and Oosthuizen to slip up and I can’t see that happening to all three of them.
Peter Hanson is certainly playing well enough to win, but he has never been in this situation, leading the Masters on the final day. And he will be in the last pairing with Phil Mickelson in front of the passionate Augusta galleries. If Peter has the mental strength to cope with that, then he deserves to be the champion.
An early good or bad break can set the tempo, but you have to say Phil has so much experience of playing the course that he must be favourite.
It’s going to be an exciting final day, and a noisy one. With Americans Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan in the top nine to back up Mickelson, you can expect a marvellous atmosphere.
It’s golf, so anything can happen, but I don’t think you will find many people around Magnolia Lane at Augusta betting against Phil Mickelson winning his fourth green jacket.