Louisville – Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson and fast-rising US prodigy Rickie Fowler are set for a last-round charge from the penultimate pairing Sunday at the PGA Championship.
World number one Rory McIlroy owns a one-stroke lead over Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, a two-stroke edge on Fowler and a three-shot advantage over Mickelson at rain-soaked Valhalla.
But with the wet course receptive for aggressive shotmaking and a host of rivals hungry for their first major title within reach of McIlroy, the stage is set for a final round that could resemble a Kentucky Derby backstretch run from nearby iconic horse racing venue Churchill Downs.
“I need to play aggressive and make some confident swings early on and make some birdies,” Mickelson said. “I'm going to be trying to make up ground on some guys that are playing really good golf and will be making birdies tomorrow, so I'll have to make a lot of them.
“You've got to go out and make birdies. You just have to get a hot hand.”
The 44-year-old US left-hander, ranked 13th, has struggled most of the year, his lone top-10 showing a runner-up finish at Abu Dhabi.
But last Sunday, Mickelson fired a stunning 10-under par 62 at the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio, and found the magic in his swing he had been seeking all season.
“It doesn't take much when you feel like your game is close,” Mickelson said. “I didn't feel like I was searching as much. I didn't feel like I would show up on the range trying to find it. I knew what I was trying to do. The golf swing felt good. I felt confident teeing off. I was in control and had good control of the golf club.”
Now Mickelson has one round to turn back the clock and try to bring the form that won him last year's British Open, the 2005 PGA Championship and three Masters green jackets.
“It's fun for me to be back in the thick of it,” Mickelson said. “I haven't been in the heat. I haven't been in that position this year and I'm certainly going to feel some pressure tomorrow because I want to have an opportunity to make up for the entire year in one round.
“Those five majors that I've won in the past really aren't much help going into tomorrow's round.”
One thing that might help is playing alongside Fowler, this year's British and US Open runner-up who says beware of both of them if they start playing well together and feed off each other.
“If we get off to a good start, we're going to be able to feed off each other quite a bit,” Fowler said. “It's going to be a fun walk and there's a possibility if we get things going, it could come down to the two of us at the end. Obviously there's a lot of guys playing well right now and we have our work cut out for us.
“Being alongside Phil, and there's quite a few guys within a few shots, it's going to be a fun day tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it. I feel like I can put up a good round and see what happens.
“Who knows, we might be playing the last hole and throwing punches at each other.” – Sapa-AFP