Phil Mickelson has Augusta jumping

Phil Mickelson has Augusta jumping
Phil Mickelson reacts after making a birdie putt at No. 16 on Saturday during the third round of the Masters. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The word shot from his mouth in rhythm with the fists that pumped above his head.

"Yes!" shouted Phil Mickelson, his intonation and intention clear amid another Masters roar. "Yes!"


Yes, yes, one of the few people in the world who actually look good in a green jacket suddenly has chance to win his fourth, and that picture would be darn near as pretty as Mickelson's twist and shout Saturday after his super-sized birdie putt ran and ran and finally leaped into the 16th hole.

No, no, it's not going to be easy, as Mickelson's 67 — which tied for the day's best round — left him only in third place at 11 under par, five strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth

But crazier things have happened than a weathered, mostly forgotten 44-year-old who hasn't won a tournament in nearly two years slouching out of Augusta National with a green jacket pilfered off the shoulders of a kid less than half his age.

Crazier, like Lefty showing up Saturday dressed in an ugly peach shirt.

"It's not my color, it doesn't look good on me, I don't wear it well," Mickelson said.

It turns out, he hung out with a golfing great earlier this week and, instead of golfing tips, he inexplicably took a fashion tip.

"I had a premonition after spending time with Arnold Palmer, he likes to wear this color," Mickelson said. "I just had a feeling that I needed to make a move, and I had it in the bag and pulled it out."

Crazier was also Mickelson providing this week's signature moment thus far when he nailed a twisting 41-foot birdie putt on No. 16 that confirmed the seriousness of his contention. For the record, he pumped both fists three times as he walked screaming across the green. And, for the record, that putt actually wasn't supposed to do that.

"Crazy," Mickelson confirmed. "I mean, it's just crazy to make that putt. I'm just trying to two-putt it. I had the perfect speed and it just kind of floated in the side door."

The shot had such impact, it resonated back 24 years, to Mickelson's first Masters in 1991, when he said he was sitting in the clubhouse as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson sank similar putts.

"I remember feeling the ground reverberate from the roar," Mickelson said.

Make no mistake, the coronation of a 21-year-old Spieth, who is 16 under par, would be a great story. The first jacket-fitting for Englishman Justin Rose, currently second at 12 under, would also be interesting.

But, c'mon. Who won't be cheering for Mickelson to stop time and drop jaws and become the second-oldest guy to win the Masters? How can anyone root against a guy who said he woke up before dawn this winter just to prepare for this moment?

"Tomorrow's the final round of the Masters," Mickelson announced excitedly Saturday night as if he were describing Christmas morning. "It's what I've been looking forward to, thinking of and dreaming of when I was getting up at 5:30 in the off-season, working out, trying to get some speed, trying to be in contention in this tournament. So here we are, six months later, and it's going to be a fun day tomorrow."


It will certainly be fun for the fans, who adore Lefty for his modest shrugs and dopey waves and constant smiles. Even though Tiger Woods is in the same sort of comeback mode this weekend, and shot a 68 Saturday to put himself in fifth place 10 strokes back, the fans seem to cheer him mostly out of respect. They hoot and holler and howl for Lefty because they love him.

Who can forget his most recent Masters win here, in 2010, when he tearfully triumphed in the wake of breast cancer battles being fought by his wife and mother? When those fans realized that Mickelson was turning up the volume on his quiet first two rounds, they turned it up with him, even roaring for him after he missed as 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have put him in Sunday's final group and really put the heat on Spieth. Typical of Mickelson, after he tapped in for par, he tapped fists with one young fan and handed his golf ball to another.

"Everyone loves Phil, why wouldn't you love Phil?" Spieth said. "He's going to make some noise and he's going to make a run."

The biggest question will be Mickelson's stamina, considering he's played only four previous tournaments this season and hasn't finished above 15th in any of them. Yet every year, he seems to show up here and bloom like the 30 varieties of azaleas.

"It's special to me because this place means so much to me," he said. "The way the people have treated me just adds to it."

The way he is treating the presence of Spieth adds to Mickelson's mystique. Moments after walking out of the scorer's room where he watched Spieth finish his round Saturday, Mickelson immediately began sandbagging him.

"If he were to come out on top, it would be wonderful for the tournament, wonderful for the game," Mickelson said, shrugging, of course. "I'm going to try and stop him, but we'll see how it goes."

But just in case you think that bow-at-the-knees was completely serious, check out his Sunday dress code. Mickelson plans to wear black, like he's worn in his previous Masters victories, and it's no coincidence.

"Studies have shown, Iike NFL teams, when they wear black they have more penalties," Mickelson said. "That's what I need to do tomorrow, is play more aggressive."

You hear that young Jordan? The old guy is coming for you, and an arboretum full of his best friends will be coming with him.

Twitter: @billplaschke