NAPA, Calif. – Walking from the ninth tee to No. 10 at Silverado Resort & Spa’s North Course, Phil Mickelson wheeled toward fellow playing competitor Max Homa and said, “Let’s get on a little heater on the back.”
To that point, Homa had traded three birdies with two bogeys and Mickelson two birdies and a bogey as they both turned in pedestrian front-nine scores of 1-under 35. But the pep talk worked.
Mickelson strung together five birdies in a row after a sloppy bogey at No. 12 and Homa went one better with six birdies in all, including the final three holes. It added up to 67 for Mickelson and 65 for Homa as they charged up the leaderboard at the Fortinet Championship in the third round.
“Max, playing as well as he did shooting 6 under on the back, made my round feel not as great, but it was still fun,” Mickelson said.
Lefty was even for the day after blocking a 4-foot putt left of the hole. But it didn’t deter him. He capped his five-birdie stretch with a 24-foot birdie putt at No. 17.
“I just felt like I had been putting really well all week and I just needed to settle down and let one go in, not force it,” said Mickelson, who improved to 10-under 206 through 54 holes. “I needed to get a couple of fairways hit because so much easier from the fairways getting to these pins. I just rolled a couple in, so it was nice.”
Mickelson has been using a longer arm-lock model this week and has found it mostly to his liking. He ranks fifth through three rounds in Strokes Gained: Putting.
“It’s how I putted as a kid. Like I always had a lot of forward press and all it’s doing now is getting in the same position as a kid, but it’s getting to that same position every time,” explained Mickelson. “I’m not overpressing, I’m not underpressing, so my launch characteristics when I get on the Quintic system is very consistent and that’s what I’m looking for.”
Mickelson’s hot run on the back nine lifted him into the top 10 (T-7) heading into the final round and lurking just three strokes behind leader Mito Pereira of Chile, who was still on the course at 13 under through 13 holes.
“I’m in a position where a good round tomorrow will do some good, and it’s fun to have a little later tee time and to feel some of the nerves and so forth,” Mickelson said. “I know I’m going to have to shoot probably 7, 8, 9 under par to have a chance, but either way it’s fun having that chance.”