Phil Mickelson finally gave up the lead at the British Open. He knows he could have lost much more than that.
"Today," Lefty said Saturday evening, just outside the clubhouse, "could have been a day it got away from me."
Instead, a combination of good fortune, improvisation and typical short-game magic meant Mickelson will head into the final round just one shot behind Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon. A sixth major title is still within grasp of the People's Champion.
In a head to head with Stenson that went to and fro Saturday, Mickelson shot 1-under 70 for his third straight round under par. He was one of only 13 players to break par on a day of intermittent showers and gusts of up to 30 mph off the Irish Sea.
Considering some of the situations he found himself in, Mickelson couldn't have asked for much more.
On No. 4, a short par-5 downwind that played the easiest hole of the day, he drove into thick rough on the right. The lie was OK, he chipped out sideways and almost matched the birdie of Stenson, which dropped Mickelson out of the lead for the first time since his 14th hole on Thursday.
On No. 12, Mickelson drove left into the gorse, the ball trickling out but settling just beside the branches. He didn't have a backswing, but he managed to punch the ball 100 yards down the fairway and got up and down for his ninth straight par.
Then on No.18, he sent his approach from the light rough into the front-left bunker and immediately complained — with an expletive thrown in — that the click of cameras threw him off. "I can't believe that," Mickelson said toward a group of photographers. "I get you have to cover it, but why do you have to interfere with it?"
His bunker shot came to rest 4 feet from the cup, and Mickelson saved par again.
"The game of golf, it just comes and goes," Mickelson said. "Most important thing is to find a way to get the ball in the hole, and that's what I did ... and that's all that I really care about.
"Some days it's easy and it looks pretty, like the first couple. Some days it's hard and it looks terrible, like it did today. But either way, I shot three rounds under par."
Mickelson said he'd get in a session with swing coach Andrew Getson before the final round as he searches for the form he produced Thursday when he shot 63, tying the lowest round at a major and coming within a lip-out of making history.
That was followed by a 69 on Friday and now a 70. The scores are getting progressively higher for a 46-year-old player without a victory since winning the British Open at Muirfield in 2013.
That doesn't worry Mickelson.
"I've been hitting it so good for so long, that I just think one day is an anomaly," he said. "Hopefully I'll get dialed back in tomorrow."
Stenson had the lowest round in the field on Friday and Saturday.
"It's a great opportunity, a great challenge," Mickelson said. "Henrik is playing really good golf and I'm going to have to go and shoot a good number."