Opening 29 puts Lefty in contention

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- From the high of major championships to the lows of letting them get away to all the moments good and bad over 22 years, Jim "Bones" Mackay figures he's seen just about everything.

Not much about caddying for Phil Mickelson through more than 500 tournaments comes as a surprise.

But one of those rare moments occurred as Mickelson was on his way to shooting 9-under 63 at Quail Hollow on Saturday.

The place was already abuzz as Mickelson climbed the leaderboard at the Wells Fargo Championship, having taken just 29 strokes over the first nine holes, when he stood on the tee at the par-3 13th that measured 216 yards.

"I was thinking it was a 5-iron yardage, but it was downwind," Mackay said. "So I was thinking 6. He says, 'I'd love a good 7 here,' and I said, 'Oh, my god,' before I could catch it. I didn't mean to say it. And he took it as a challenge and hit a big sweeping 7-iron in there."

Mickelson's shot came to rest just 9 feet away, and he converted the birdie putt, one of seven to go along with an eagle to give him his best round of the year on the PGA Tour and match the third-round 63 he shot in Abu Dhabi in January.

That seems like a long time ago. Mickelson finished second in the Middle East but failed to finish in the top 10 since. He's withdrawn from two tournaments, missed the cut at the Masters for the first time in 17 years and then had that ugly 75 on Friday.

Then this, a 63 that might have been better, a round that propelled him right back into the tournament.

"That one was really good," said Mackay, who has been on the bag for 41 of Mickelson's 42 victories. "In the rounds he's had before, the 60 in Phoenix [last year], he's had to make everything throughout the round. Today he made everything for nine holes.

"Obviously it gets really tough there at the end on the second nine. He gave himself chances on virtually every hole. He played exceptionally well tee to green and managed his game very well."

Mickelson will enter the final round just 2 strokes behind leader J.B. Holmes, who teed off 2 hours and 20 minutes after Lefty and shot 66 to snag the third-round lead by a stroke over Martin Flores. Mickelson will play in the group ahead along with Kevin Kisner, who is in fourth, 3 shots out of the lead.

But to even have a chance heading into Sunday -- and a very good one -- seemed ludicrous at the start of the third round. Mickelson, 43, took 34 putts during the second round Friday and found himself 7 strokes back.

"Honestly, my game didn't feel that far off," Mickelson said. "And it just kind of clicked today. Sometimes the ball just goes in the hole and sometimes it doesn't. I didn't feel like I was far off after yesterday's round. I didn't walk away very discouraged. I felt like I was pretty close, and I just came out today with a new energy and excitement and I was able to put together a good round.

"I love getting in contention here. This is one of my favorite tournaments and one of my favorite golf courses anywhere. It's just beautiful. It's one of the best courses in the world."

Playing alongside Brendon de Jonge -- who opened the tournament with 80 and then shot 62 on Friday -- Mickelson started innocently enough with pars at the first two holes. Then he rattled off four straight birdies before knocking in a 13-footer for eagle at the seventh. He added another birdie at the eighth and shot 29 on the front.

De Jonge wasn't doing badly himself, his only blemish a bogey at the par-5 15th, as he and Mickelson were a combined 13-under par.

"He's got a wonderful attitude on the golf course and you can't help but pick up on that," de Jonge said. "It was fun out there. Obviously as Phil kept making birdies, the crowds got bigger and bigger and louder and louder. And his round could have been three or four better easy."

He noted the shot Mickelson hit on the 13th as the best of the day. De Jonge eavesdropped on the conversation between golfer and caddie and was bemused by the outcome.

"I think that's the one that pleased him the most, as well," de Jonge said. "It was kind of personal between he and Bones as to whether he was going to get it back to the hole."

Of course, Mickelson didn't see any big deal.

"Yes, every now and then I'll stump him," Mickelson said of Mackay. "I just saw a different shot ... Having to shut the face, the ball was going to go a lot longer and I think it just kind of shocked him that the yardage was ... I don't normally hit a 7-iron that far."

Who does?

Phil did, perplexing his long-time caddie and, in the process, giving himself a legitimate shot at victory Sunday.