Courtesy of Napa Valley Register - Marty James
Phil Mickelson’s opening shot in the third round of the Safeway Open left the 42-time PGA Tour champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member shaking his head.
With a large crowd looking on, he missed the fairway after pulling his drive right on the par-4, 436-yard first hole.
But Mickelson, the winner of five majors, regrouped and shot a 4-under-par 68 on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa on Saturday.
He is tied for seventh place, just four strokes off the lead heading into Sunday’s final round in the event that serves as the opener of the 2017-18 schedule. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
It’s been a long drought for Mickelson, who last won in 2013. He had two victories that year – the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Open Championship.
“I like the position I’m in. I just have to get off to a good start,” said Mickelson. “What I’m excited about, because even though I was fractionally off today, I feel like I’m really close.”
Mickelson is at 10-under through three rounds. He trails Tyler Duncan, a rookie who is making just his second PGA Tour start, who is at 14-under and leading after shooting a 71 on another day of ideal conditions – sunny, warm, summer-like weather with temperatures climbing into the high-80s.
There are 15 players who are within striking distance, just five shots off the lead heading into the final round, which looks to be a shootout on the par-72, 7,166-yard track that is again putting up a test with its greens.
“The positives are that I’m very close,” said Mickelson, who drew the largest galleries. “I was a little bit off today, but my speed was back. I started hitting the ball with a little bit more authority even though it wasn’t quite finding the fairway. I made some good birdies on the front nine. I had a good round on the back side. I let a few shots go.
“So the positives are that I’m close. It tells me that if I just put it a little bit together (Sunday) I have a chance to make a run at it.”
The breakdown of Mickelson’s round: 2 of 14 fairways hit in regulation, 12 of 18 greens in regulation, 25 putts.
Duncan had the 36-hole lead following a 66 in the second round and had a par-saving putt on the 18th hole to maintain a one-shot advantage heading into the last round.
Duncan is alone atop the leaderboard, and is followed by Chesson Hadley, who carded a 70 and is at 13-under. Tied for third, at 12-under, is Bud Cauley (66) and defending champion Brendan Steele (72).
Emiliano Grillo (68), the winner of the 2015 Frys.com Open at Silverado, and Graham DeLaet (69) are tied for fifth at 11-under.
Mickelson is joined by Andrew Putnam (69), Bill Haas (69) and Tony Finau (71) at 10-under.
At 9-under, and tied for 11th, are Nick Taylor (68), Jason Kokak (68), Kevin Na (66), Bronson Burgoon (69), Martin Laird (69) and Harold Varner III (70).
Sunday’s final round starts at 10:30 a.m., with groups beginning play from both the first and 10th tees, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.
Duncan, Hadley and Cauley are in the final group, starting from the No. 1 tee, at 12:30 p.m.
The second-year event, presented by Chevron and offering $6.2-million purse, is part of the FedExCup schedule. The winner’s share is $1,116,000. Golf Channel’s coverage Sunday is from 2:30-5:30 p.m. The event offers full FedEx Cup points.
This is the fifth year of the PGA Tour’s wraparound schedule that bridges two years, with 45 events leading up to the FedExCup Playoffs. The season includes eight events in the fall, all of which award FedExCup points.
As a captain’s selection, Mickelson played last week in the Presidents Cup, compiling a 3-0-1 record for the U.S.
A resident of Rancho Santa Fe, California, he has played on 11 Ryder Cup and 12 Presidents Cup teams.
“I need to get off to a good start (Sunday) and then I need to finish the round. I haven’t finished the round the last three days and I’ve got to finish it off,” said Mickelson, who is starting his 27th season on the PGA Tour.
Duncan had four top-10 finishes playing on the Web.com Tour last season. Since 2014, he has divided his time between Web.com Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamerica. He earned his PGA Tour card by virtue of his 23rd-place finish on the Web.com Tour priority list. In his only other start on the PGA Tour, he missed the cut at the 2015 U.S. Open.
“To be here, to play on Sunday, is awesome and I’m going to come out and give it my best,” said Duncan, who hit 11 of 14 fairways in regulation and 12 of 18 greens, while making 29 putts.
“I got off to a decent start and struggled a little bit there on the back nine, but my putter woke up on the back and made some good saves there through the middle and then there again at 18. So just lucky enough to make some putts there to finish.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous (Sunday), but I’m looking forward to it,” said Duncan, a 2012 Purdue University graduate.
Duncan shared the first-round lead after opening with a 7-under 65.
Duncan made a six-foot downhill putt to save a bogey-4 after hitting his tee shot in the water on the 15th hole. He came back and birdied No. 16. He closed the round with pars at Nos. 17 and 18.
Duncan experienced trouble on the par-3 holes, making three bogeys in the third round.
Duncan has hit 25 of 42 fairways in regulation and ranks tied for 21st in that category through three rounds.
He ended the Web.com Tour season with 21 starts, one top-10, and 11 cuts made.
A day after shooting a course-record 11-under 61, Hadley’s round consisted of six birdies with four bogeys.
“I thought the course was playing difficult and I didn’t get off to a very good start,” he said. “I hung in there and just didn’t panic and kept myself in a good spot for (Sunday). I’d like to get off to a little bit better start (Sunday) and maybe hit the driver a little bit better,” said Hadley.
Hadley split his time between the PGA Tour (eight starts) and Web.com Tour (19 starts) last season.
Cauley hit 15 of 18 greens and needed just 27 putts.
“I played well. Hit a lot of good shots, made a couple nice putts. Was really hoping to get one there at the last, but put myself in a good spot for (Sunday),” said Cauley.
Steele’s round included two birdies and two bogeys.