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Pebble Beach, Calif. — Phil Mickelson and his sublime short game delivered more entertainment than all the athletes and celebrities for the Saturday show at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Mickelson made the impossible look easy from a bunker behind the par-3 seventh green at Pebble Beach. He holed out from a bunker for birdie on the 13th, and chipped in from 90 feet for birdie on the next hole.

When he rapped in one last birdie, Mickelson had a 5-under 67 and trailed Nick Taylor of Canada by one shot going into the final round. Mickelson will be going for a record sixth title at Pebble Beach, and his first PGA Tour victory since he won this tournament last year.

Taylor had a cold and relatively quiet day, away from all the hits and giggles around the celebrity rotation at Pebble. He teed off at tough Spyglass Hill with a beanie and hand warmers because of heavy marine layer, warmed up as the sun broke through and made a 25-foot eagle putt late in his round for a 69.

Taylor was at 17-under 198 as he goes for his second PGA Tour victory, and first since he won the Sanderson Farms Championship in his fourth start as a tour rookie.

Mickelson hit a flop shot over the bunker on the par-5 18th – how did that one not go in? – to pull within one shot. They will be in the final group, along with their amateur partners. Mickelson has former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, while Taylor has Golf Digest editor-in-chief Jerry Tarde.

Taylor and Mickelson have never played together.

“It’s going to be a new experience for that reason, if I am playing with him,” Taylor said. “Obviously, if he makes a putt or great shot, the crowd’s going to go wild. I’ve just got to do my own thing, try to block all that out. Easier said than done, without having to do it before, but I’ll do the best I can.”

This is a two-man show; however, Jason Day posted a 70 at Spyglass Hill and was only three shots behind at 14-under 201.

For others, it was a waste opportunity.

Pebble Beach had more wind than earlier in the week, but still gentle enough that low scores were available. Dustin Johnson, a two-time winner at Pebble, was in striking range and could manage only a 72, leaving him eight shots back. Patrick Cantlay, at No. 8 in the world, played the final six holes in 2 over for a 72 and was nine shots back.

Mickelson started with a pair of birdies. He took a share of the lead with a birdie on the par-5 sixth.

And then the fun began.

His wedge on the 110-yard seventh hole that drops down into the Pacific went long and plugged in the back bunker, impossible because of the back pin and a fast green that slopes toward the front. He splashed out so perfectly that it took a few hops in the rough before reaching the green, slow enough to stop 2 feet away for a tap-in par.

Even for Mickelson, it rates among his best.

Then, his 50-foot bunker shot on the tough eighth rolled inches from the cup on No. 8. More trouble supposedly awaited on the 13th when his approach peeled into the left bunker. He raised both arms when that dropped. And on the par-5 14th, he made a mistake by not hitting his punch wedge hard enough. It rolled down the slope, off the green and back into the fairway. Mickelson’s long chip from 90 feet banged into the pin and dropped for birdie.

Mickelson missed two birdie putts from inside 10 feet. And while he hit only nine greens in regulation, he usually had a reasonable angle to the pin to save par – or make birdie, as was the case twice for him.

That leaves a Sunday with plenty at stake for the leading three players.

Mickelson said earlier in the week he would not accept a special exemption for the U.S. Open if he needed one. A victory at Pebble – the 45th of his career – would go a long way toward solving that.

Taylor can validate his first win since his rookie season, an opposite-field event at the time. The Canadian has never been to the Masters and has played in only four majors, two as an amateur.

Day, meanwhile, is a former No. 1 who spent most of last year injured and frustrated. He has gone nearly two years since his last win, and was in danger of falling out of the top 50 if he didn’t starting getting better results.

LPGA

Ayean Cho shot a 2-under 70 on a difficult day for scoring to take a one-stroke lead over Madelene Sagstrom after three rounds of the  Vic Open at Barwon Heads, Australia.

The tournament at the 13th Beach Golf Links also feature a European Tour men’s tournament running alongside the women’s event.

Choi had a three-round total of 12-under 205. Canada’s Alena Sharp was in third, two strokes behind Cho after a 70.

In the men’s event, Min Woo Lee eagled the 18th hole for 4-under 68 to take a three-stroke lead over three-time European Tour winner Marcus Fraser and fellow Australian Travis Smyth.

“I knew it was going to be difficult coming in, it was going to be a grind today,” Sagstrom told a television commentator before completing her round. “I am going to be tired after this.”

After Saturday’s third round, the men’s and women’s fields were reduced to 35 players each plus ties. The final round will be played on the Beach course. That course and the Creek course were used for the first two rounds of the tournament.

In the men’s event, Min Woo Lee eagled the 18th hole for 4-under 68 to take a three-stroke lead over three-time European Tour winner Marcus Fraser and fellow Australian Travis Smyth.

“There is so much wind, it’s so hard to figure out when to pull the trigger, I think it might be one of the best rounds I have ever played, regardless of the score,” Lee said.”

Lee had a three-round total of 15-under 201. Fraser shot 69 and Smyth 72.

Fraser said the windy conditions bordered on unplayable.

“My old man plays off 14, he’s a good golfer and I think he would have struggled to break 110 out there,” said Fraser. “I think that’s as strong a wind as I’ve played in anywhere.”

The tournament is also sanctioned by the Australasian PGA men’s tour and European Tour and the European and Australian women’s tours.

Event postponed 

The Women’s Asia-Pacific Amateur has been postponed next week in Thailand because of the new virus from China.

That makes three golf events canceled or rescheduled because of the coronavirus that has infected more than 34,800 people worldwide and killed more than 700 – nearly all in China – since the first illness was reported in December.

The LPGA Tour previously canceled the Blue Bay LPGA scheduled for the first week of March in Hainan Island, China. The PGA Tour China Series moved its qualifier at the end of February from China to Singapore.

The Women’s Asia-Pacific Amateur, organized by the R&A and the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, was to be played next week at Siam Country Club. The winner receives exemptions to the Women’s British Open, the Evian Championship and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

“The decision has been taken amid serious concerns for the safety of players and officials traveling during the current coronavirus outbreak,” R&A chief Martin Slumbers said. “Our utmost priority is to ensure their safety, and the advice we have received in the last 24 hours is that we should not ask them to travel at this time.”

Slumbers said the R&A would assist players with travel arrangements and hopes to reschedule the event later this year.

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