Phil Mickelson is on the brink of a historic PGA Championship victory.
The American veteran let slip a commanding lead he forged over the front nine on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island but remained on top of the leaderboard after 54 holes.
The 50-year-old was five shots clear midway through his third round after a stunning start but dropped three shots coming home for a two-under 70 and a 7-under 209 total.
It left Mickelson one shot clear of Brooks Koepka (70) as he aims to supplant Julius Boros, who was 48 years old when he won the 1968 PGA Championship, as golf’s oldest major champion.
South African Louis Oosthuizen (72), the 2010 British Open champion, is third at 5-under while American Kevin Streelman (70) is a shot further back.
Less than a month from his 51st birthday, Mickelson flashed the short game magic that helped him to 44 US PGA Tour wins during his hall-of-fame career, making five birdies in his opening 10 holes.
His first tap-in birdie came after a missed eagle putt from just 14-feet while his second came after a brilliant fairway bunker shot from 99 yards that almost went in.
But just as he looked near unbeatable, he bogeyed the 12th and made double bogey at the par-four 13th, after his tee shot found the water, to give the chasers new life.
I’ve failed many times in my life and career and because of this I’ve learned a lot. Instead of feeling defeated countless times, I’ve used it as fuel to drive me to work harder. So today, join me in accepting our failures. Let’s use them to motivate us to work even harder.
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) May 11, 2021
Mickelson has spoken of the ills of his age being a loss of focus during rounds when explaining a handful of recent efforts but hoped the enormity of the opportunity on Sunday would keep him switched on.
“I feel or believe that I’m playing really well and I have an opportunity to contend for a major championship on Sunday and I’m having so much fun that it’s easier to stay in the present and not get ahead of myself,” he said.
‘Slipped a little bit’
“I felt I had a very clear picture on every shot (in the opening 11 holes), and I’ve been swinging the club well, and so I was executing. I just need to keep that picture a few more times.
“Even though it slipped a little bit today … hopefully I’ll be able to eliminate a couple of those loose swings tomorrow.”
Koepka, who has won two of the past three PGA Championships, moved into a share of the lead with a tap-in birdie at the par-five 16th but gave that shot back with a three-putt bogey on 18.
“That was the worst putting performance I think I’ve ever had in my career, can’t get much worse,” four-time major winner Koepka said.
“I thought 70 was about the highest I could have shot today. I left a lot out there.
“I’ve got a chance to win, so that’s all I wanted to do today is not give back any shots and be there tomorrow with a chance, and I’ve got that.”
Australia’s top-ranked player Cameron Smith carded a 73 to be 2-over while even-par rounds left Jason Scrivener and Jason Day at 4-over and 5-over respectively.
Further back were Matt Jones (74, 6-over), Cameron Davis (76, 7-over) and Lucas Herbert (77, 9-over).-