(Reuters) – Nick Taylor maintained the lead after the third round at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Saturday with Phil Mickelson breathing down his neck in search of an historic sixth victory at the storied event on the California coast.
In what is shaping up as a three-man race, Canadian Taylor, at 17-under-par 198, will take a one-shot advantage over American Mickelson into the final round, with resurgent Australia Day three behind.
Victory would be highly significant to all three for their own reasons.
For Mickelson, apart from boasting the Pebble Beach victory record, it would be a rocket-like boost to the 49-year-old whose form since winning last year has been lackluster at best.
He is not yet exempt for the U.S. Open in June at Winged Foot, where he threw away victory with a final-hole double-bogey 14 years ago, but says his game has been sharp for a while and his mind is finally getting out of the way.
He shot 67 at Pebble Beach on a day when he weaved his old magic around and on the greens, holing a bunker shot and taking just 22 putts.
“It was a nice score on a day when it wasn’t easy,” he told PGA Tour Radio.
“The greens were firm, the wind made it difficult and I ended up making a good score, did a good job of getting the ball in the hole.”
A third place at the Saudi International on the European Tour last week boosted his confidence.
“I knew I was playing well starting the year. The first couple of tournaments I ended up not really controlling my thoughts and visualizing very well.
“These last two weeks I’ve started to see things a lot clear and execute a lot better without any kind of negativity. So I’ve been much more assertive and aggressive and controlling my mind a little bit better.”
Standing in Mickelson’s way on Sunday will be Taylor, whose career resume of one tour victory does not quite stack up with Mickelson’s 44.
“Tomorrow will be tough,” Taylor said after shooting 69 at Spyglass Hill, one of three courses used for the event.
“If I keep playing like I’ve been playing I think I’ll have a good shot.
“(I need to) stay in my own world and not get distracted by anything else outside of that.”
Former world No. 1 Day has not won in nearly two years.
He was a little disappointed not to be closer to the lead, giving himself only an average grade for his 70 at Spyglass.
“I left myself a few too many times above the hole and you really can’t be aggressive when you do that,” he said.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Richard Chang