Phil Mickelson has made it three-quarters of the way through the PGA Championship looking every bit like a golfer poised to win another major championship.
Sunday’s final round at The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C., figures to be one of the toughest assignments in the 50-year-old golfer’s career. But Mickelson is embracing the situation.
“I think that because I feel or believe that I’m playing really well and I have an opportunity to contend for a major championship on Sunday and I’m having so much fun that it’s easier to stay in the present and not get ahead of myself,” Mickelson said.
At 7 under, Mickelson holds a one-shot lead on Brooks Koepka, is trying to become the oldest golfer to win a major. Koepka has all sorts of confidence. He expects to be a contender in the majors.
“It just feels good, feels normal,” Koepka said. “It’s what you’re supposed to do, what you practice for. I’m right where I want to be, and we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”
At one point on Saturday, Mickelson was five shots in front of Koepka. But Koepka kept his focus. “I can’t control what he’s doing, I just need to play better,” Koepka said. “Simple.”
Mickelson is at 209 after Saturday’s 70. Koepka also had a 70 on Saturday, putting him at 6 under.
Mickelson (+20000) and Koepka (+4000) were long shots to win at the beginning of the week, according to NBC Sports Edge Betting. By Saturday, some oddsmakers listed Koepka at +150 and Mickelson next at +300.
Mickelson owns five major titles, including the 2005 PGA Championship. His most recent victory in a major came in the 2013 British Open.
Mickelson last won the PGA Tour in 2019. He claimed two triumphs last year on the Champions Tour - the 50-and-older circuit.
Koepka has won four majors (2017 and 2018 U.S. Open, 2018 and 2019 PGA Championship). He senses that he’s in championship mode again. “If I strike it anything like I did the last three days, I’ll have a chance,” Koepka said.
Adjusting to the wind
The wind has been among the overriding conversation topics all week and an anticipated shift in direction for the last round figures to be another factor. “There’s a number of guys who have seen that other wind,” said Jordan Spieth, whose 68 was tied for the best result on Saturday.
“It will certainly be an adjustment. The thing is I know how far the ball is running out downwind or how far it's running out into the wind. We have such great yardage books these days with pictures on them, you can use rangefinders to cover the bunkers. I don’t think there’s anything that will take me by surprise.”
Koepka said he won’t allow potential wind changes to alter his mindset.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just got to go out and go play good golf. Doesn’t matter what direction the wind is going. The goal is still the same.”
Spieth said golfers should be used to the impact of the winds this week. “But your expectation on certain holes will certainly change,” he said. “You go from just trying to hold on (for) dear life the last four to, hey, maybe I can grab a couple tomorrow and same on the early holes and that whole middle stretch of the round you’re in off the left and holes that were kind of shoe-in mid-irons into par 5s you have to really carve that hole out.”
Challenging day ahead
Three South Africans are within range of rising to the top. Louis Oosthuizen is in third place at 5 under, while Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Branden Grace are tied for fifth at 3 under - just a shot behind American Kevin Streelman.
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann is in the mix at 2 under along with reigning US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau and Gary Woodland. “Of course, I’m going to keep doing the same,” Niemann said. “It’s going to be a different wind (for Sunday) and it’s going to be different for everybody. It’s going to be a challenging day, and we are going to try to make the most of how I’m playing and hopefully have a good one.”
There were only six sub-70 rounds recorded on Saturday.
Still, there will be adoring fans lining the course for the last round. That has made this tournament different than most across the past year because of the pandemic.
“It is nice to have people out here enjoying the game and supporting us the way they have,” Mickelson said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
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