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Pebble Beach answers are blowing in wind

Times Staff Writer

Neither rain, nor wind, nor darkness of day could prevent Phil Mickelson from delivering a two-under-par 70 at Spyglass Hill, and although that’s usually not the kind of score that overwhelms anyone, it was plenty effective on what turned out to be a wet, windy, madcap Saturday in the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Once the weather turned foul in the afternoon, Mickelson struggled to get through before being blown out of the Del Monte Forest, closing out his last four holes with two birdies, a bogey and a par. It was good enough for a share of the lead with veteran Kevin Sutherland after three rounds of this $5.5-million adventure in golf and barometric pressure.

“If it gets worse, the key is to drive the ball well,” said Mickelson, who called Saturday’s weather the poorest of the week.

Up to now, that is. Anyway, Mickelson’s rounds of 65, 67, 70 give him a 14-under total of 202, with the final round today at the ocean-side links of Pebble Beach, where there’s nothing to block the wind except the clothes on your back.

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Sutherland birdied the last hole at Poppy Hills to conclude his five-under 67, one shot clear of rookie John Mallinger, who had a 68 at Poppy Hills, even though his streak of holes without a bogey ended at 50.

Mickelson said he doesn’t know Mallinger.

“I’m going to find out hopefully a lot more about him,” Mickelson said.

As for Mallinger, a survivor from the rigors of qualifying school, he’s just happy to be here.

“I couldn’t ask for more,” he said. “Final day, 18 holes at Pebble Beach, you kind of dream of stuff like that.”

But as far as truly enjoyable experiences go, Saturday’s version couldn’t have rated so highly for most.

Jim Furyk, the second round co-leader, shot a 76 at Pebble Beach and started heading in the wrong direction when he double bogeyed the 10th, playing into the wind, and knocking his second shot off the side of a cliff.

Trying to direct a golf ball in the right direction was a challenge for many, as Vijay Singh discovered, pumping his tee shot into the ocean at the 18th at Pebble and coming up with a double bogey.

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After rolling in a 30-foot birdie putt on the wind-swept 18th green at Pebble Beach, Corey Pavin hurriedly plucked the ball out of the hole, before it blew back out.

“It’s ugly ... extremely difficult, incredibly difficult,” Pavin said. “That’s probably about as strong a wind as I’ve played in out here.”

And that’s from someone who shot a five-under 67 to move into a tie for fourth with Davis Love III, five shots behind the leaders at nine-under 207. Love managed a two-under 70 at Spyglass.

Furyk could have improved his spot, but he hit a short, 237-yard drive at the par-five 18th and was forced to settle for par. Furyk is still within striking distance at eight-under 208, even though he is six shots behind Mickelson and Sutherland and tied with Jeff Overton, Craig Kanada and Steve Flesch.

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From his position, Mickelson said he’s merely trying to play better than he has since he started the year at the Bob Hope, where he tied for 45th. He insisted he is not trying to disprove the notion that there are any lingering effects from his U.S. Open collapse on the last hole at Winged Foot, when he lost a two-shot lead.

“I don’t really think in those terms,” he said. “It would be a nice way to get momentum on the West Coast, but there are a lot of good players still right there and I’ve got to come out with a good round to give myself a chance.

“The nice thing for me is it makes my Sunday a lot more enjoyable than what I’ve had the last three weeks.”

Mickelson chipped to within six feet and birdied the par-five 11th, his second hole, and picked up a second birdie at the 325-yard 17th when he hit a sand wedge to within one foot. He made the turn and at the fourth, missed a 10-footer for par. He had back-to-back birdies at the sixth and seventh, the first after he knocked a five-iron to six feet, and the second after he two-putted from 30 feet on the par-five. But Mickelson gave a shot back in the wind at the 399-yard eighth when he three-putted from 30 feet for a bogey.

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A slow start is not usually Mickelson’s calling card, so this year has been a different experience for him, with his 45th at the Hope his best finish in three tournaments. He has won at least once before the Masters every year except one since 2000 -- in 2003, when he was winless.

There’s still time for Mickelson before Augusta, but he wouldn’t mind continuing his early-season routine with a victory today. He has seen signs he’s coming around, after taking 4 1/2 months off.

“I was a little rustier than I thought.”

Probably from the rain.

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thomas.bonk@latimes.com


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