There are undeniable truths about what it takes to win the Masters.
It has much to do with unerring shotmaking and a resolute manner. And it is about Augusta National Golf Club and how unyielding its mood.
“Fortune favors the brave here,” Padraig Harrington said.
The question is: Who will be that golfer Sunday?
On Saturday, Sweden’s Peter Hanson staked his claim with a rousing 7-under-par 65 that has him alone at the top with a 9-under 207 total. Hanson shot 31 on the second nine, with five birdies on the final seven holes spurred on by Phil Mickelson’s heroics.
Three-time Masters champion Mickelson shot 66 and is one stroke behind. The 66 is one shot off Mickelson’s career best at Augusta National, in the first round of the 1996 Masters. Mickelson shot 30 on the second nine with an eagle and four birdies.
Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa shot 69 and was another stroke back at 209. The top three are followed by Bubba Watson at 70–210 and Matt Kuchar at 70–211. Four golfers are at 212: Harrington (68), Hunter Mahan (68), Henrik Stenson (70) and Lee Westwood (72).
Hanson, playing in his second Masters, was partnered with Mickelson for the first two rounds and watched Friday as the left-hander posted a 68 after salvaging his Tournament with a hard-fought 74 Thursday.
Since losing his tee shot in the left woods on No. 10 of the first round, Mickelson has made 13 birdies and the Saturday eagle at the 13th. Mickelson and Hanson will play together again in Sunday’s final pairing.
“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 greatest thing in professional golf.”
Hanson, who played in the group in front of Mickelson, said he “heard Phil make that eagle putt on No. 13.”
“Definitely, that was one of those special kind of Masters moments that I've been watching so many times TV‑wise,” Hanson said. “You hear the crowd going wild. It kind of helped me on 14. I'm standing in the middle of the fairway, and I feel him breathing down my neck a little bit and manage to get mine close on 14 and picked up another birdie on 15.”
Mickelson called the eagle putt “a big momentum change right there” and said his work on the greens is in career-best form.
“It’s been so good, it’s been the best I’ve had in my career probably, putting,” he said. “I really worked hard in the off‑season and made a real commitment to what I was doing. All year it’s been great, but this week on these greens, where I know the breaks and they roll so true, it’s been really good.”
Augusta National, meanwhile, took its toll on the low scorers at the halfway mark.
Fred Couples, a 36-hole co-leader, made bogey on the first two holes, a double bogey at the fifth and went out in 39. He shot 75. Fellow co-leader Jason Dufner also had 75.
Rory McIlroy started Saturday with a double-bogey 6 on the first hole and made another at No. 7 on his way to 42 on the first nine, and he played his way out of contention with a 77. Lee Westwood missed an 18-inch putt at the ninth hole and shot 72. Sergio Garcia went out in 40 and finished with a 73 to fall into a tie for 19th.
Harrington, who made birdie on five of the final six holes, is playing in his 13th Masters. He knows what the final-round experience will be like.
“The likelihood when it comes to the Tournament Committee, they generally set up the golf course on a Sunday that somebody is going to have to go and make birdies,” Harrington said. “This is not a golf course or a Tournament that you generally can play to the middle of the green and try to two‑putt, no matter what your lead is. You're going to have to play good golf shots and putt well on Sunday.
“This is the beauty of the golf course. It becomes so much harder when you're defending something. It really is a tough golf course when you've got a bit of fear in you and you don't want to make a mistake.”
Harrington twice has won the British Open as well as the 2008 PGA Championship. He knows what it takes to play best when it matters most.
“It's not the player that plays the most consistent that wins at the Masters,” Harrington said. “The player who plays probably some of the most exciting golf wins at the Masters. It's not really a contest of fairways and greens. It's a bit more flamboyancy in it. You only have to look at the way Phil has won some of his majors. You've got to take on golf shots.
“When you are leading a tournament, that's not the type of golf course you want to be on. You want to be on probably a boring golf course, which this ain't. That’s why I think this golf course really is the ultimate golf course to win on, and the toughest course in the game probably to maintain a lead.”
For Harrington, Mickelson is a model of what the Masters champion and what Masters Sunday are all about.
“I think that you have to know the golf course full stop on Sunday,” Harrington said. “You've got to know the feelings coming down the stretch in a major. You've got to know the feelings coming down the stretch at the Masters, because the Masters is different. That back nine is different than any other major tournament.”