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Hanson holds off charge by Mickelson at Masters
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Hanson holds off charge by Mickelson at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) Phil Mickelson set off roars at Augusta National
with a 20-foot eagle putt for a share of the lead, and an amazing
flop shot behind the 15th green that only he would dare try.

Peter Hanson answered with four birdies on his last five holes,
claiming some of those cheers for himself and taking the outright
lead Saturday in the Masters with a 7-under 65, the lowest score of
the tournament.

What a finish – and it’s all just beginning.

“Fortune favors the brave at times here,” Padraig Harrington said.

“When you’re leading a tournament, that’s not the type of golf
course you want to be on,” he added. “You want to be on probably a
boring golf course – which this ain’t.”

That much was evident on a day filled with cheers from every
corner, a prelude for a final round that would figure to favor
Mickelson.

Hanson, a 34-year-old Swede playing in only his second Masters,
has never been closer than seven shots of the leaders in his
previous 17 majors. He goes into Sunday with a one-shot lead over
Mickelson, who already has three green jackets.

Hanson passed his first test.

He was walking up the 14th fairway when he heard a commotion
that shook Augusta. He knew what it was without looking –
Mickelson draining an eagle putt on the 13th hole, raising the
putter with his right arm and slamming down his left fist to
celebrate along with 15,000 of his best friends.

“I’m standing in the middle of the fairway and I feel him breathing
down my neck a little bit,” Hanson said.

Hanson followed with an approach into 2 feet for birdie, a 15-foot
putt from the fringe on the 15th, a 30-foot birdie putt over the
ridge on the 17th and one last birdie at the 18th with a shot that
stopped inside 3 feet from the cup.

He was at 9-under 207.

“I’ve been watching this tournament since I was a young kid, and
seeing Freddie Couples and the guys go and shoot 30 and 31 on
the back nine is something you just dream about,” Hanson said.

Mickelson shot 30 on the back and signed for a 66, putting him in
the final group at the Masters for the fourth time in the last nine
years. Lefty won the last three times he was in that spot.

“I love it here, and I love nothing more than being in the last group
on Sunday at the Masters,” Mickelson said. “It’s the great thing in
professional golf.”

Mickelson gave the leaderboard some star power when so many
others faded or, in the case of Tiger Woods, never came close to
getting there. Woods now has gone 26 consecutive holes on the
back nine at Augusta without a birdie. He had to settle for a 72 and
was 12 shots behind, his largest 54-hole deficit ever at the
Masters.

But he wasn’t alone.

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who started the day one shot out
of the lead, made double bogey from the trees on the first hole and
it only got worse from there. He had three 6s on his card and went
out in 42, finishing with a 77 that left him 10 shots behind. He
played with Sergio Garcia, who shot 75. Neither made a birdie until
No. 12, and they hugged each other on the green to celebrate.

Fred Couples, at 52 the oldest player atop the leaderboard going
into the weekend at Augusta, bogeyed his first two holes and tried
to stay in the game. He wound up with a 75 and was seven shots
behind.

A win would give Mickelson his fourth green jacket, same as Woods
and Arnold Palmer.

But this is far from a two-man race.

Former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen rode his sweet
swing to a 69 and was only two shots behind. Bubba Watson birdied
the last hole for a 70 and was three shots back, followed by Matt
Kuchar, who joined Mickelson as the first players in 13 years to
birdie the 18th hole each of the first three rounds.

The group at 4-under 212 included Lee Westwood (72) and
Harrington, who shot 68 and summed up what awaits on Sunday.

“It’s not the player that plays the most consistent that wins at the
Masters. The player who plays probably some of the most exciting
golf wins at the Masters,” Harrington said. “It’s not really a contest
of fairways and greens. It’s a bit more flamboyancy in it. You only
have to look at the way Phil has won some of his majors. You’ve got
to take on golf shots.”

And to think Mickelson almost lost this Masters on the opening day.
With a lost ball and a triple bogey on the 10th hole, he was 4-over
par through 12 holes on Thursday and hitting the ball in places
even he had never seen at Augusta. Only his short game saved him
that day, and he escaped with a 74.

He has been on the move ever since, and Lefty was at his best on
Saturday.

If there was one shot that showed why he has an imagination unlike
others, it came from behind the green on the par-5 15th. Moments
earlier, Hanson was in about the same spot and played a
conventional bump-and-run up the slope to a green that runs
quickly toward the hole. Hanson went just over the green, and had
to make a 15-foot putt.

Mickelson took out his 64-degree wedge – he carries that club for
moments like this – and played a full flop shot that landed softly
and trickled to 4 feet below the cup for a birdie.
How tough was the shot? Even Mickelson said it was risky.
“It was possible to slide underneath it, so I leveled out my weight a
little bit so that I would not take too deep a divot and the ball
popped up nicely,” Mickelson said, describing the shot as if giving a
clinic.

Hanson was on the 16th hole when all this unfolded.

“To be honest, I never saw that high flop shot from there,” he said.
“He’s just amazing with the wedge and the way he plays those
shots. When I ended up in that same spot on 15, I just sought the
bump-and-run and get it past the hole and leave myself an uphill
putt. He goes up and just hits a full swing and goes straight up in
the air.”

But it was a lesson for Hanson, especially for the final round: Don’t
watch, just play.

“He has a few shots around the green that I’m not even close to,”
Hanson said. “I just have to play my game and work around this
golf course the absolute best I can.”

First, he has to get through the night. Hanson expects that sleep
won’t come easily – not when you’re in the lead for the first time in
a major, with a green jacket on the line.

He has quietly risen to No. 25 in the world ranking, with a pair of
top 5s in the World Golf Championships and a runner-up finish at
the Qatar Masters. Hanson also has spent time in good company.
He started working in the offseason with coach Gary Gilchrist, who
also teaches Yani Tseng, the No. 1 player in women’s golf.

The last time he was in a twosome with Mickelson was at Celtic
Manor, and timing could not have been worse. Mickelson had just
set an American record for most losses in the Ryder Cup, and he
had not contributed a point all week.

“He came out so hungry and desperate to win,” Hanson said. “He
started off with four straight birdies. So I had no chance.”

It’s up for grabs Sunday – but not for everyone.

The biggest surprise was McIlroy, who has been flawless for the last
six months and was poised to seize control of this major when he
started out just one shot behind. With two double bogeys and a 42
on the front, his Masters effectively was over.

“Seems like every year I come here, I throw a bad nine holes out
there,” McIlroy said, referring to his 43 on the back nine of the final
round last year when he lost a four-shot lead.

As loud as it was, Woods rarely heard it so quiet.

He missed out on all the action by playing so early – he was done
about the time the leaders teed off. And he did nothing to make
anyone cheer. For the second straight round, Woods failed to birdie
any of the par 5s. In his previous 17 years at the Masters, he had
gone birdie-free on the par 5s only twice.

Woods has made only one birdie all week on the back nine – the
first hole he played, No. 10, on Thursday.

“I unfortunately did not play the par 5s very well today,” Woods
said. “I’m telling you, it was just so close to being a really good
round of golf.”