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If someone were just following the leader board at the Augusta National this week, they could have been forgiven for thinking this was some carnival merry-go-round. At the end of a day when the lead changed hands between eight players, it finally rested in the hands of Peter Hanson, who practices much of his game on the European Tour. Hanson went round the course with a seven under 65 to finish at 207 overall and a one stroke lead over the immensely popular Phil Mickelson. Leftie brought his short game to bear on the iconic course to card a 66 that took him to 8 under at the end of an eventful third round of the Augusta Masters tournament in Georgia.
Hanson put together a round built around workmanlike precision, compared to his final round partner, who was busy wowing the pliable crowd around Augusta with some magic. The Swede started the day with a bogey on the brutal first hole, but made birdies on 2, 7, 8 and 12 as he made the turn at five under. He emerged front and centre with back to back birdies on 14 and 15th, before finishing with a flourish on the 17th and 18th as the crowd rose to applaud his day's work.
The lead is in Hanson's bag, but Mickelson ensured he will have plenty to worry about on Sunday. The three time Masters Champion is breathing down his neck after a 30 on the back nine this Saturday helped him to within a stroke off the leader. Mickelson threatened to convert Augusta into a Scottish football stadium with some pristine magic on the 510 yard â€“ par 5 â€“ 13th hole. His tee shot carried about 300 yards and settled down for a nice lay on the fairway. Mickelson fed into the imagination of the crowd, landing his second on the green about 40 feet from the cup.
A picture of studied concentration, he sank the eagle shot before blowing a huge hole in the air with an excited pump of his fist. There isn't a gallery on the 13th, so the crowd that was already on their feet levitated at the exhibition of brilliance from the seasoned master. But he wasn't done yet â€“ lying back of the green on the 15th, Mickelson took a full swing with his 64 degree wedge â€“ the ball went soaring 30 feet in the air, before landing softly and spinning ever so gently to within four feet from the pin. In the kind of form Mickelson was in, he was never going to miss that birdie.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods was battling with his errant mood and the fluctuating results from his new swing to avoid slipping to probably his worst finish at the Masters. That came in 2004, when he was tied for 22nd. After yet another even par round, Woods was lying 38th with a three over score of 219. "It was just one thing after another, so you have got to be patient, which I was. I was grinding hard and it was a tough day," Woods said, just as he had on Thursday and Friday. "The greens are soft. You can get after some of the flags. But the wind is just puffy enough out there where you get different directions. A good shot can get a bad spot or a slope."
In more realistic contention are the group of players lying within striking distance of the leaders - South African Louis Oosthuizen(69) is two behind Hanson, with Americans Bubba Watson(70) and Matt Kuchar(70) three and four shots off the pace respectively. At four under is a bunch of four players - Lee Westwood(72), Hunter Mahan(68), Padraig Harrington(68) and Henrik Stenson(70).
Rory McIlroy, paired with Sergio Garcia had more fun with his playing mate than with the course. The Irishman stumbled down the board with a 77 that left him at one over going into Sunday. World No.1 Luke Donald carded a 75 to slip back to seven over at the end of the third round. The halfway leaders â€“ Fred Couples and Jason Dufner disappointed themselves with a round of 75 that saw them both slip back to two under alongside Ian Poulter.
Sunday will be an open ticket for the many contenders â€“ but they will do well to remember that Mickelson won all four of his majors from the final pairing, which is where he will be on Sunday when he starts at 1940 GMT (around 0100 AM Monday in India) with the third round leader Hanson. "When I look back at this tournament I'll look at Thursday," said the Californian, "at some point I'm going to get hot here but I've got to be in a position to move up the leader board, not just get into the weekend. The way I fought back Thursday made that possible."
Hanson recognised his limitations - "It's going to be tough. It's a new situation to me," said the Swede, "I'll try to do the normal stuff. I've got my two kids here and my wife, so just try to stay in the house and cook in, and like I said, I probably won't be watching a lot of Golf Channel or stuff. Just trying to stay away from all that and try to get as much sleep as I can and try to be ready."
-9 Hanson (Swe)
-8 Mickelson (US)
-7 Oosthuizen (SA)
-6 B Watson (US)
-4 Harrington (Ire), Westwood (Eng)
-2 Poulter (Eng), Couples (US)
+1 McIlroy (NI)
+3 Woods (US)
+7 Donald (Eng)
File Photograph Copyright: Asian Tour
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