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Phil Mickelson smiles during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson set off roars at Augusta National with a 20-foot eagle putt for a share of the lead, and an amazing flop shot behind the 15th green that only he would dare try.
Peter Hanson answered with four birdies on his last five holes, claiming some of those cheers for himself and taking the outright lead Saturday in the Masters with a 7-under 65, the lowest score of the tournament.
What a finish -- and it's all just beginning.
"Fortune favors the brave at times here," Padraig Harrington said.
"When you're leading a tournament, that's not the type of golf course you want to be on," he added. "You want to be on probably a boring golf course -- which this ain't."
That much was evident on a day filled with cheers from every corner, a prelude for a final round that would figure to favor San Diego’s Mickelson.
Hanson, a 34-year-old Swede playing in only his second Masters, has never been closer than seven shots of the leaders in his previous 17 majors. He goes into Sunday with a one-shot lead over Mickelson, who already has three green jackets.
Mickelson shot 30 on the back and signed for a 66, putting him in the final group at the Masters for the fourth time in the last nine years. Lefty won the last three times he was in that spot.
"I love it here, and I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters," Mickelson said. "It's the great thing in professional golf."
Mickelson gave the leaderboard some star power when so many others faded or, in the case of Tiger Woods, never came close to getting there. Woods now has gone 26 consecutive holes on the back nine at Augusta without a birdie. He had to settle for a 72 and was 12 shots behind, his largest 54-hole deficit ever at the Masters.
But he wasn't alone.
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who started the day one shot out of the lead, made double bogey from the trees on the first hole and it only got worse from there. He had three 6s on his card and went out in 42, finishing with a 77 that left him 10 shots behind. He played with Sergio Garcia, who shot 75. Neither made a birdie until No. 12, and they hugged each other on the green to celebrate.
Fred Couples, at 52 the oldest player atop the leaderboard going into the weekend at Augusta, bogeyed his first two holes and tried to stay in the game. He wound up with a 75 and was seven shots behind.
A win would give Mickelson his fourth green jacket, same as Woods and Arnold Palmer.