Mickelson takes one-shot lead at Nissan Open

Feb 18, 2007 - 1:41 AM By John Reger SportsTicker Contributing Writer

PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Ticker) -- Phil Mickelson pretty much had his way during the first 45 holes at the Riviera Country Club before the historic country club bit back.

Mickelson had three bogeys in five holes coming in, failing to distance himself from the pack in Saturday's third round at the $5.2 million Nissan Open.

The lefthander finished 2-under-par 69 on Saturday and has a one-stroke lead over Irishman Padraig Harrington. Mickelson is 13-under 200 for the tournament.

Rich Beem is two strokes behind and Australian Robert Allenby and Charles Howell III are three shots back.

Mickelson and Harrington began the day tied for the lead at 11-under, but two quick birdies gave Mickelson the advantage. His second shot at the par-5 first reached the fringe 97 feet away, and he sank a five-footer on the second hole.

Mickelson had a three-stroke lead, reaching 15-under by No. 11 before his struggles began, allowing Harrington and others to pull closer.

"It could have been a chance for Padraig and I to pull away a little bit there in the end," Mickelson said. "The three bogeys on the backside let 12 to 15 guys back in the tournament."

Harrington had his chances as well. He birdied No. 3 with a 12-footer but gave it back three holes later when he made a bogey on the par 3 sixth.

"I had a few opportunities at the time," Harrington said. "It would have been nice to get to 15- 16-under par, so that would have taken the field out."

This tournament traditionally does not have runaway winners. The last person to win by two strokes was South Africa's Ernie Els in 1999. Nick Faldo won in 1997 by three strokes over Craig Stadler.

Since then there have been four playoffs and with fast greens and pristine conditions expected Sunday, Mickelson expects the same type of ending.

"There were a lot of low scores," Mickelson said of Saturday's round. "If Padraig and I had both shot low scores we probably could have pulled away a little bit. Instead it will be a shootout."

There are nine golfers within five shots of Mickelson, but the leader isn't counting out those that are six or seven shots out.

"We have to play a good solid round, it's not like we have to do anything spectacular," Mickelson said. "We have to play a good round and shoot under par and probably 4- or 5-under I would guess. But there are plenty of birdie holes out there to do that."

Els, who along with Australian Geoff Ogilvie, Jim Furyk, Spaniard Sergio Garcia and South Korean K.J. Choi, is four strokes behind Mickelson, knows he will have to post a low score.

"I've got to go low, no matter what Phil does," said Els, who shot 67 on Saturday. "I've got to go really low. There are so many guys around 8, 9, 10, 11 so you really need a breakout round - 63 or something."

Neither Mickelson nor Harrington can afford to shoot the scores they did Saturday. While the two leaders both posted their highest of three scores in the third round, golfers like Beem, Allenby and Howell were climbing the leader board. Howell now has posted 16 of 21 rounds at par or better at Nissan and Beem has made eight of nine cuts here.

Beem, who has not won since capturing the 2002 PGA Championship, had the best round of the day, signing for a 6-under 65 to get to third place. He was aided by a hole-in-one on the 177-yard No. 14.

"I got a couple of really good breaks out there to start off the round," Beem said. "I hit the ball solid all day and I made a few putts and getting a one always helps."

Allenby, who won this event in a rain-soaked, six-man playoff in 2001, shot a 3-under par.

"I think it's one of those courses every year there is always a bunch of guys that have a chance to win the tournament," Allenby said. "As long as I've been coming here it's always been anyone within five or six shots can win this tournament in a day."

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