California (Reuters) – Phil Mickelson has not given up hope of a last-day miracle to win the U.S. Open after almost blowing his chances during Saturday’s third round at Pebble Beach.
The U.S. Masters champion had stormed into contention with a brilliant 66 on Friday to end the day tied for second but finished the third round seven shots off the pace and back in sixth position after carding a two-over-par 73.
The odds are stacked against him capturing the championship from that far back but the American, whose cavalier approach to the game makes anything possible, has not ruled himself out.
“At the Open, a lot of things can happen,” Mickelson said.
“I’ll be off with the leaders and I need to get hot in those first seven holes that you can make birdies.
“You can make up a lot of ground if you make birdies on Sunday at the U.S. Open but it will be challenging to make up that many shots.”
The signs were not good for Mickelson early in his third round, the previous day he birdied the first two holes, this time he bogeyed them both.
He got one shot back when he birdied the fifth but missed a short birdie putt on the sixth then took a double bogey at the ninth.
“I didn’t play well,” he said. “I didn’t hit it as well as I did yesterday. I had to fight pretty hard to get some up and downs. I had some ridiculous up and downs.”
Mickelson has always been an unorthodox player prepared to gamble but he needed all his wits to stop himself from falling further behind the leaders.
After making a birdie at the 16th with a putt from the fringe, his tee shot at the par-17th missed the green and ended up near the spectator stands. He was given a free drop and scrambled a par but the drama continued on the next hole.
His drive over the picturesque coastline landed on the fairway but rolled over the edge and on to the rocks below.
He took a penalty drop and found the green with his long approach and managed another par which was of little consolation after Johnson birdied the final two holes to finish three ahead of his nearest rival at six-under.
“I don’t feel like I got myself out of trouble,” said Mickelson, who has never won the U.S. Open but would take over the number one ranking with a victory on Sunday.
“I put myself in trouble a lot and was able to escape a little bit. I’m quite a few shots back, probably more shots back than I thought I would be.
“I was fortunate to keep in the round and be within striking distance. But if I can go shoot something in the ’60s, get off to a good start, who knows what can happen.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)