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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Justin Rose beat Phil Mickelson in a mini-competition Saturday. The prize was the right to play alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round of the Masters.
It looked like it would be Mickelson, first in the clubhouse at 11 under.
Then Rose sank a 20-foot, winding putt that he curved downhill into the cup on 18, leaping Lefty for a spot Sunday in the last group, where he can keep an eye on — and maybe apply a little pressure on — the record-setting Spieth.
"Jordan is playing incredible golf," said Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion. "It would be great to keep an eye on him and try and to sort of keep pace."
Both Rose and Mickelson matched Saturday's best round with 5-under 67s. Rose started the day both a stroke and a group behind of three-time Masters champion Mickelson. But the Englishman found himself trailing Mickelson by a couple strokes on the back nine before he birdied five of his final six holes with a finish that included holing out from a greenside bunker on 16 to a big roar.
Then he finished with that winding putt, knowing birdie would put him at 12 and push Mickelson out of that final group.
"Obviously the icing on the cake to birdie 18 and get me one closer to Jordan," Rose said.
He said being in the last pairing means he can see what he's up against and feel the atmosphere as the roars start filling the air at Augusta National. He'll have the best view of the 21-year-old Spieth trying to protect his four-stroke lead.
"You know if you have to chase or if you can still be patient, whereas if you're in the group in front, you don't know what the leader is going to do," Rose said. "So I think it's always an advantage to be in the final group."
Mickelson insists he's right where he wants to be, playing with Charley Hoffman and teeing off 10 minutes ahead of Rose and Spieth. All the better to put on a show and force Spieth not to settle for pars and maybe gamble a bit. Mickelson said he remembers being in the last group in 2011 with Louis Oosthuizen while Bubba Watson made birdie after birdie — something that's tough to watch and can be harder to follow up.
"I was hoping to be the group in front," Mickelson said. "And if I can start posting some birdies, I think it's much more difficult to follow than it is to lead."
Mickelson had his spot in that final group in his grasp after rolling in a 40-footer on the par-3 16th for his second straight birdie and third in four holes.
"I had perfect speed, and it just kind of floated in the side door," Mickelson said. "I remember in 1991 watching Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson both hit that putt, both made it, and I remember being up in the clubhouse feeling the ground reverberate from the roar. So it's makeable, but it's not an easy one."
Maybe Mickelson was just too excited after that because his putter failed him with a three-putt bogey on 17, and he missed a 10-footer for birdie on 18. He settled for par, capping his own seven-birdie, two-bogey round.
So while Mickelson said he thinks Spieth would be a great addition as a Masters' champion and good for golf, this is the moment the 44-year-old has spent the past six months working toward.
"I'm going to try to stop him, but we'll see how it goes," said Mickelson, who added his last green jacket in 2010.
Rose is quite familiar with Spieth, having played with him in the Ryder Cup last year and on the PGA Tour's Florida swing last month. He played with Spieth through the first two rounds in Houston last week. The two hit clubs about the same distance, making it a good pairing for Rose.
Now Sunday's challenge is staying patient while trying to chase Spieth down.
"You never know when you're going to get your run," Rose said.