sfgate.com photo: Phil Mickelson chips the ball out of a bunker up to the seventh green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020
By Jeremy Harness
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – After the morning fog burned off, the action around Pebble Beach heated up. And at the end of Saturday’s proceedings, a familiar face emerged near the lead, with another chance to win at this event.
The weather on Saturday was the opposite of the day before. All three courses were covered in fog in the early morning, resulting in cooler temperatures and tougher playing conditions, before the skies cleared up hours later.
Nick Taylor, the leader of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am after each of the first two rounds, had his struggles in the early going while playing at Spyglass Hill. He bogeyed two of his first four holes on Saturday and momentarily lost his lead to a surging Jason Day, who was also at Spyglass.
Taylor got things back on track a few holes later, and then slowly began to make up ground and, in the process, regain the lead while Day backtracked slightly. The Canadian birdied the par-four 17th and finished his first nine one-over, and his round gained momentum as the fog subsided.
He picked up a couple of shots in the first five holes of his back nine before making eagle at the par-five seventh. He parred out the rest of the way and went into the clubhouse with a three-under round of 69. He will play the final round with defending champion Phil Mickelson, who shot a five-under round of 67 at Pebble Beach on Saturday and trails Taylor by single shot.
“It’s going to be a new experience,” Taylor said of playing with Mickelson, who he has never played with. “(But I’m) not really trying to pay attention to what he’s doing. Obviously, if he makes a putt or hits a great shot, the crowd’s going to go wild.
“I’ve just got to do my own thing and try to block all that out. (But that’s) easier said than done.”
Mickelson, who has won this event five times, started his third round at Pebble Beach hot and, with the exception of a brief hiccup in the middle, kept the pedal down to ultimately get within an earshot of the top spot. He birdied the first two holes – including a second hole that saw him hit his tee shot into the fairway bunker and then watch as his second shot found the greenside bunker – and added another birdie at the par-five sixth.
He dropped a shot at the par-three 12th but quickly got his momentum back in Mickelson-esque style. He holed out from a greenside bunker at the par-four 13th for a birdie and then chipped in for birdie at the par-five 14th.
He also ended his third round with a roar. After hitting his second shot way right of the green at the par-five 18th, he hit a super-high lob shot that settled four feet from the hole and then nailed the ensuing birdie putt to go into Sunday’s final round trailing Taylor by a single shot with a five-under round of 67.
“I felt like I had a pretty good day with my short game and had some pretty good shots,” said Mickelson, who actually missed the cut in his previous tournament, the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago. “So it was a nice score. I scored well today, on a day that wasn’t easy. The greens were firm.
“I thought the wind made it difficult, and I ended up playing really well and making a good score. I did a good job getting the ball in the hole.”
Also in the hunt is Day, although he is now three shots behind the lead after holding the second position the day before. He started out very well, making birdies at two of his first four holes in the third round before dropping a shot at the par-four 17th.
He quickly rallied and picked up two shots in the first four holes of his second nine. However, that momentum was stalled by a bogey at the par-three fifth and was not able to regain it, finishing with a two-under round of 70.
“I gave myself plenty of opportunities out there. I just, unfortunately, didn’t capitalize,” Day said. “But for a day like this, to walk away under par, I think I’m still pretty pleased.
“I think if I just stay within myself and play, I just got to focus on giving every shot 100 percent. If I can do that, hopefully I’m holding the trophy at the end of the day.”