SHANGHAI, China -- Phil Mickelson is getting the hang of
this travel thing very quickly.
A 35-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole and a tap-in birdie on
No. 18 gave Mickelson a 4-under 68 and a two-stroke lead over Ross Fisher going into Sunday's final round of the HSBC Champions tournament.
Known for his reluctance to play outside the U.S., Mickelson is
set to cash in on Asia's richest tournament, a $5 million purse
with $833,300 for the winner.
"I want to play well whether it's the States, whether it's
here," Mickelson said Saturday. "I want to want to compete and I
want to have a chance to win. To me that's what's fun. It's
difficult to come this far and not play well."
On his first trip to China -- and his first to Asia -- Mickelson
has drawn the biggest galleries, been unfailingly polite and filled
the Tiger Woods void. Woods played the HSBC event last year, failed
to win and is not back this time.
Mickelson is looking to return home with only his second
international victory. The first came 14 years ago in France.
Fisher also shot 68 on Saturday for a 12-under 204. Paul Casey
carded a 66 to trail Mickelson by three. American Kevin Stadler,
who had a one-stroke lead after two rounds, slipped to a 73 and
fell four behind Mickelson.
From being a homebody, Mickelson is now preaching the virtues of
world golf. The two-week trip to Asia has allowed him to test new
equipment for next season, and it's given him a profile in the
world's most populous country.
"I think it would be great for the game of golf if we can get
people here in China to take an interest," Mickelson said. "This
is a great opportunity for the game to gain some interest in a part
of the world that can have a huge impact on the game."
Only two Chinese players made the cut. China's top player Liang Wenchong shot 74 and was 13 behind Mickelson. Zhang Lianwei carded an 82 Saturday, leaving him 24 behind the leader.
Mickelson has been able to play relaxed golf in Shanghai, mixing
it in with evenings out with his wife and children. Of course it
helps that this event has no relevance on the U.S. tour. It is,
however, the first event of the 2008 European tour season, which
comes almost two months before the new year.
"Being able to see so many great things here in Shanghai, it's
been a great way for me to relax off the golf course," said
Mickelson, who finished 16 strokes behind winner Angel Cabrera in
last week's Singapore Open.
Mickelson made several testing 5-foot putts to save par at the
Sheshan Golf Club, an American-style layout graced by an
Italian-accent clubhouse complete with a belltower and a swanky
estate of country houses.
However, the key was a 35-footer for birdie on No. 15 that put him in
the lead for good, a difficult split-level green with a rolling
The two-time Masters winner threw his left fist skyward when the
putt dropped, doffed his visor and then gave the ball to a young
woman in the gallery amid chants of "Phil, Phil."
"I certainly didn't expect to make it," Mickelson said. "It
was such a long putt, you can't plan on making those and I was
fortunate to see that one go in."
He also missed a 30-foot eagle putt on the final hole and
settled for an easy birdie to push him two ahead.
Fisher, who picked up his first victory on the European tour in
the Dutch Open earlier this year, looked comfortable playing in the
final pairing with Mickelson and Stadler. He was in the final
pairing with Woods earlier in the season in the Dubai Desert
"Tiger was fantastic," Fisher said. "I was shocked at how
open he was. We were chatting like we were best friends. And the
same today with Phil. He was very polite, we were chatting most of
the way around. It kind of really helped me to relax."