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Mickelson surge electrifies Masters fans

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The birdie roars finally returned to the Masters in Saturday's third round as three-times champion Phil Mickelson made an electrifying run after the turn to charge into contention.

The American left-hander, who has long been inspired by the iconic Augusta National Golf Club, eagled the par-five 13th on the way to a six-under-par 66, covering the back nine in a scintillating six under.

Red numbers had been relatively sparse on the leaderboard earlier in the day but Mickelson changed that with a stunning par-birdie-eagle stretch around Amen Corner in dazzling sunshine before finishing one stroke off the pace at eight-under 208.

"This was a really fun day and it gives me an opportunity to make something special happen tomorrow," a perpetually smiling Mickelson told reporters after moving into position to clinch a fifth major title. "There's nothing more exciting than being in the final group on Sunday at the Masters."

Mickelson sparked the biggest roars of the day after he cut a six-iron from 206 yards into the 13th green, his ball settling 20 feet short of the hole from where he sank the curling putt.

"I've hit that putt so many times over the years and just knew that that ball was going to curl in sideways," the 41-year-old said. "I knew it was slow up that hill, and the ball just crept over the lip. It was a great feeling to see that one go. That was a big momentum change right there."


Mickelson, who won the most recent of his three green jackets at Augusta National in 2010, felt his most significant moment this week came in the opening round when he fought back from after four over par 10 holes.

"I felt like at some point I would get hot, kind of like the back nine today," he said. "But instead of being just enough to make the cut, I wanted it to be something where it could move me up the leaderboard.

"So I had to really fight on Thursday when I was letting the round slip away. Getting a couple of shots back on Thursday evening is what put me in a position to shoot a low round and move up the leaderboard."

Mickelson, who says he is putting better than ever, was especially pleased with his birdie at the par-five 15th where he executed a stunning flop shot from a flat lie behind the green, with a full swing, to just four feet.

"It wasn't the safest shot, and that's not where I want to be," he said. "That pin position is by far the toughest for me to make a four on that hole, because you can't miss short; you're in the water.

"And long is no bargain, the way the green is pitched severely from back to front in the middle; that's not where I wanted to be. That spot that was a very tough up and down."

Mickelson will go into Sunday's final round a stroke behind pacesetting Swede Peter Hanson, his playing partner for the first two rounds this week.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)