(Reuters) – Phil Mickelson has made a career out of a sublime short game, so when he describes a bunker shot as the second best of his life it is worthy of attention.
Mickelson holed a relatively routine 45-foot sand shot at the 13th hole during the third round at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California on Saturday, a feat that had the gallery cheering wildly.
But it was one that did not go in that prompted the 49-year-old to superlatives.
Mickelson’s tee shot at the famous short par-three seventh hugging the Pacific Ocean plugged in a bunker some 40 feet from the pin, a lie that meant he was unable to impart any significant backspin on the ball.
Never mind, the short game wizard judged and executed the shot perfectly, landing the ball in long grass in front of the green and, aided by perhaps a touch of luck, watched in delight as it trundled up to tap-in distance.
The coy smile on Lefty’s face said it all, and he expanded afterwards on the shot.
“That was No. 2 in my all-time bunker shots, behind only the 16th hole at Memorial, 2006 final round. That was plugged under the lip and I holed it,” he said.
“This one didn’t go in. I was just trying to not make double (bogey) and it ended up being a tap-in.”
The shot helped Mickelson to a five-under-par 67 that moved him within one shot of Canadian leader Nick Taylor.
A win on Sunday would be Mickelson’s sixth in the storied event, giving him the sole record. He currently is tied with Mark O’Meara.
He has not contended anywhere since his win at Pebble Beach last year, but seems to raise his game when he visits the Monterey Peninsula.
“I’ll know a lot of the pin placements, have the experience of knowing what the ball does but I still have to execute, hit the shots and play the course smart and efficiently,” said the 1998, 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2019 champion.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Richard Chang