Golf: Mickelson seizes two-stroke lead in pursuit of historic PGA win

Mickelson plays his shot from the second tee during the third round of the 2021 PGA Championship. PHOTO: AFP

KIAWAH ISLAND, UNITED STATES (AFP) - Phil Mickelson, trying to become golf's oldest major winner at age 50, birdied the par-5 second hole to seize a two-stroke lead in Saturday's third round of the PGA Championship at windy Kiawah Island.

Five-time major champion Mickelson and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, shared the lead on 5-under as they teed off the final group.

Mickelson went left into rough off the first tee but saved par while Oosthuizen went further left into sand and missed a six-foot par putt, leaving Mickelson alone at the top.

Mickelson dropped his approach at the par-5 second hole within 15 feet of the cup. He missed an eagle putt but tapped in for birdie, stretching his lead to two strokes.

With a victory, Mickelson would break the major tournament age mark set by American Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.

Winds direction switched on Saturday on the punishing Ocean Course, the longest layout in major history at 7,876 yards.

After blowing fron the east all week, breezes were from the south on Saturday, creating tricky crosswinds, and were set to come from the west on Sunday, making every weekend hole on the coastal layout an all-new test.

Mickelson, ranked 115th, is the oldest player to hold a share of the 36-hole PGA lead since Sam Snead at 54 in 1966.

The US left-hander, without a top-10 major finish since 2016, became only the sixth player since 1900 to lead majors in four different decades, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Sam Snead, Ray Floyd and Gary Player.

Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion who won his lone PGA in 2005, has not won a major since the 2013 British Open.

His most recent US PGA Tour victory came in 2019 at Pebble Beach, although he won twice in 2020 on the 50-and-over Champions Tour.

American Gary Woodland, the 2019 US Open champion, birdied the par-5 second and holed a 66-foot birdie putt at the fourth to reach 4-under.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, seeking his third PGA title in four years, opened with three pars to stay on 4-under.

He's playing through pain after undergoing right knee surgery in March.

South Africa's Branden Grace birdied the second to reach 4-under.

US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau birdied the par-5 second and seventh around a bogey at the fourth to reach 2-under.

Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris eagled the par-5 second and made the turn 1-under.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama made bogey at the third to fall to 2-under.

The Japanese star seeks a rare major double, trying to become the first player to capture the opening half of a calendar Grand Slam since American Jordan Spieth won the 2015 Masters and US Open.

South Africa's Christiaan Bezuidenhout opened with back-to-back bogeys to stumble back to 1-under.

Spieth fires 68

Relatively calm conditions greeted early starters and Spieth, seeking a victory to complete a career Grand Slam, fired a four-under par 68 to stand on level par 216 for 54 holes.

Three-time major winner Spieth, who snapped a four-year win drought last month, rolled in a 32-foot birdie putt at the third and chipped in from 46 feet to birdie the par-3 fifth.

The world number 26 began the back nine with back-to-back birdies and added another at the par-5 16th before a bogey at the par-3 17th.

American Rickie Fowler, chasing his first major title on a special exemption, fired a 69 to match Spieth for the early clubhouse lead on 216.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who won the 2012 PGA at Kiawah, stumbled to a 74 to stand on 221.

The seventh-ranked Northern Ireland star, who snapped an 18-month win drought two weeks ago, began the back nine with two bogeys and took another at 15. He has made six bogeys on par-5 holes in a week of struggles.

Sweden's Alex Noren produced the first bogey-free round of the week, firing a 70 to stand on 219.

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