SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Phil Mickelson was locked in concentration over a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th, the some 20,000 onlookers mostly quiet on the amphitheater hole except a fan who screamed “Tiger would make it!”
Playing partner Bill Haas heard it, but Mickelson was oblivious to the slight, perfectly striking the putt that drew a thunderous cheer when it dropped in.
“It’s Saturday of the Phoenix Open. It’s always fun,” Mickelson said. “There’s a lot of people out here. I don’t think there’s a shot I wanted to make more, other than a major championship, than that putt on 16. I wanted to make that so bad.
“To see that go in with the crowd right there was a great feeling.”
The birdie and another on the short par-4 17th helped Mickelson close within four strokes of leader Tommy Gainey halfway through the frost-delayed tournament.
“There’s a lot of golf left,” Mickelson said. “Even though it’s Saturday – it feels like it’s the third round – but we’ve only played two, so we’re halfway through and to be within a few shots, it’s where everybody is trying to get to.”
The former Arizona State star, the 1996 and 2005 winner at TPC Scottsdale, birdied six of the last 11 holes for a 6-under 65. He was 10 under for two rounds in the tournament that will end Monday because of long delays Thursday and Friday.
Gainey played nine holes Saturday, finishing off a 65 after shooting a career-best 63 on Friday. He missed the cut in his first three events of the year.
“My ball-striking is really good,” Gainey said. “I hit a couple bad shots today, but they wasn’t bad enough to get in any trouble. I always think that’s a good thing, because as we all know, golf is a game of misses, so my misses today were pretty good.”
Mark Wilson was 13 under, completing a 64 on Saturday.
“Everything just flowed good today,” Wilson said. “I felt very calm.”
Haas was 12 under after his second 65. He lost a playoff two weeks ago in the Bob Hope Classic, then tied for ninth at Torrey Pines after fading in the final round.
• Read Jeff Babineau’s 2008 profile of WMPO leader Tommy Gainey by clicking here.
“I really felt good going into Sunday last week and shot 75, so I’d argue that I’m not 100 percent sharp, just had some good finishes,” Haas said. “But to come out after doing that and shoot a pair of 65s feels pretty good.”
Chris Couch (65) was 11 under.
Rickie Fowler – dressed head to toe in bright green as part of title sponsor Waste Management’s “GreenOut” – had a 62 to join Mickelson at 10 under.
Fowler tied the course back-nine record with a 7-under 29. He eagled the par-5 13th, holing an 8-footer after a 329-yard drive and 220-yard, 5-iron approach, and birdied the 16th after nearly making a hole-in-one.
“I saw some of the scoreboards and knew that I was around the cut line early on and basically had to step on the gas and get going,” said Fowler, second last year behind Hunter Mahan. “I love this tournament.”
The third round started late in the afternoon and only 48 of the 74 players who made the cut teed off before play was suspended because of darkness. They will play until dark again Sunday, then finish Monday morning.
Mickelson, second last week in San Diego, needs a solo third-place finish or better to move past Tiger Woods for No. 3 in the world. If Lefty gets it done, it would be the first time since the week before the 1997 Masters that he has been ranked ahead of Woods.
“I really want to try to come out on top here,” Mickelson said. “I’ve won twice here in the past, and it was very special.
“I spent 12 great years here and went to college here, and my wife and I met here. We lived here for a number of years and had our first two children here. This is a special place. I love coming back. I love the way people treat us.”
The crowd was estimated at 131,627, up from 121,221 on Saturday last year. In colder weather, the attendance was 38,323 Thursday and 74,723 Friday.
Jarrod Lyle had a hole-in-one on No. 16 in the second round. The husky Australian, 5 under overall early in the third round, used an 8-iron on the 150-yard hole.
“That’s my first hole-in-one as a professional,” he said. “Of all the holes to have a hole-in-one in the world, this is probably the best one that you can think of.
“I probably carried on down there, but it’s just one of those things where the crowd spurs you on a little bit and I was trying to spur the crowd on a little bit, too, to make it as loud as possible. It was just an incredible feeling.”
Brendan Steele aced the 174-yard 12th with a 7-iron in the second round. He was 5 under early in the third round.
Because of frost and frozen greens, about 7½ hours of anticipated playing time was lost Thursday and Friday – after the pro-am was wiped out Wednesday.