Five-time major champion Phil Mickelson fired six birdies in a six-under par 66 on Saturday to maintain his two-shot lead in the US PGA Tour Desert Classic.
The 48-year-old American heads into Sunday’s final round chasing a 44th US PGA Tour title and his third in this event in the California desert east of Los Angeles. His 22-under par total of 194 put him two strokes clear of Canadian Adam Hadwin, who fired a bogey-free seven-under par 65 for 196.
Mickelson – who launched his week with a sparkling 60 on the La Quinta course, one of three in use this week – kept his foot on the accelerator on the tougher Stadium course on Saturday, where a chip-in at the sixth hole launched a string of three straight birdies.
“Every now and then you just need that putt, chip, something to fall and give you a little momentum,” Mickelson said.
He was one stroke behind Hadwin’s clubhouse lead when he rolled in a 34-footer for birdie at the 13th and regained the lead when he drained an 11-footer at the 14th.
A brilliant shot from a greenside bunker at the par-five 16th gave him another birdie look but Mickelson was unable to capitalize. But he picked up another stroke with a 36-foot birdie putt at the par-three 17th before capping his round with a par.
“I gave myself a lot of chances,” Mickelson said. “I missed a few short putts that I’ve been making for a while, but I also made a couple of long ones.”
Hadwin fired his 65 on the Nicklaus course.
The Canadian is no stranger to strong performances in the Desert. He fired a 59 in the third round on the La Quinta layout on the way to a runner-up finish in 2017, and finished tied for third last year.
Hadwin, seeking a second US PGA Tour title to go with his 2017 Valspar Championship crown, said his bogey-free day, which saw him hit 12 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation, was “as stress-free as possible”.
Hadwin was one stroke in front of American Adam Long, who had two eagles in a nine-under par 63 at La Quinta. American Steve Marino was a further stroke back on 198 after a 67 on the Nicklaus Tournament course.
Mickelson said he’d stay aggressive when they return to the Stadium course on Sunday.
“It’s a course you don’t have to be perfect on,” he said. “You have to hit a lot of good shots in certain spots. But if you miss it properly you can still play this course.
“I can come out and play aggressive and that’s how I like to play.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)