LOUISVILLE, Ky. – On moving day at Valhalla, Phil Mickelson ignited the crowds and lifted himself into contention for his sixth major title by executing a stunt normally reserved for NBA point guards or NFL wide receivers.
The double move.
Mickelson recovered from back-to-back bogeys early on his back nine with four electrifying birdies to finish with a four-under 67 that left him three shots behind leader Rory McIlroy heading into the final round.
And in the midst of Mickelson’s frenetic rally, little-known Austrian Bernd Wiesberger crafted his own highlight reel of incredible shots alongside Mickelson, signed for a 66, and improbably landed in Sunday’s final pairing.
It was all something to see.
As the sun broke through and the humidity intensified in the late afternoon, Mickelson was fading fast. On the gettable par-5 10th, he dumped his approach into the front bunker and settled for par. On the par-3 11th, he fanned his tee shot and bogeyed. On the 12th, he left his approach shot a full club short and bogeyed again. On a day where birdies were filling up everyone's cards, Mickelson was five back of the leaders. Twilight was descending. He had moved the wrong direction.
And then Mickelson stuck a towering iron shot to 22 feet on the par-3 14th and curled in the putt. Gallery roars ripped through the Kentucky hills. Like that, from Game Over to Game On.
“The birdie putt on 14 was huge for me. I needed something to get it going,” Mickelson said after his round. “Knocking that one in gave me a little bit of momentum.”
On No. 15, Mickelson fired another dart to six feet and drilled the birdie putt. The crowds screeched his name with a blue grass twang. “PHEE-IIIIL.” On No. 16, he and Wiesberger piped their drives and, as fans applauded their every step, had an animated chat while heading up the fairway.
“That was where I thanked him for firing up the crowd a bit because they had gotten quiet after his two bogeys,” Wiesberger said. “We had a lot of fun.”
In the 16th fairway, the scene escalated from “fun” to “totally bananas.” Wiesberger stepped in and pured his shot to three feet. Mickelson went next and jammed another one inside the leather. Birdie, birdie. Bedlam. What’s better than moving day?
“It’s just great energy to have so many people and be so supportive not of myself but of all the players,” Mickelson said. “They have been great.”
With two holes remaining, it was time for a final act. Wiesberger lined up a shot from 167 yards in the center of the fairway -- “perfect yardage for an 8-iron,” he said -- and nearly jarred it. Fans howled as he brushed in the six-incher. Mickelson grinned before two-putting for par.
On the par-5 18th, Mickelson drove into the left rough and from a thick lie and pulled a hybrid – no laying up, because again, it's moving day – and ripped a soaring shot to the left side of the green. The crowd boomed. Wiesberger left his second shot short but then nearly chipped in for eagle. Mickelson’s own 45-foot eagle putt burned the edge, and if it had dropped fans might’ve blown the roof off the place, if said roof existed.
Mickelson said he believes he can win his sixth career major if he’s able to put together an opening stretch of holes that matches his dazzling finishes.
“I just haven’t played all 18 holes the way I’ve played the last five,” Mickelson said. “I need to do that tomorrow right from the start. I’ve got to be sharp and I feel like I have got that low round in me.”
The only thing better than moving day? Sunday. Catch your breath, golf fans. This one promises to be great.