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Mickelson is within reach of 1st major

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The expectations were about as low as they have been in some time for Phil Mickelson. Perhaps that's the formula for him to win his first major title.

Mickelson had a typical up and down day in the third round of the Masters, shooting par 72 with four birdies and four bogeys at Augusta National Golf Club.

But he nonetheless was in position to win. Mickelson, at 215 and 1 under par, was four strokes behind third-round leader Jeff Maggert and tied for fifth.

"I'm within striking distance," said Mickelson, who three times has finished third at the Masters and has seconds at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. "My swing feels fine. I hit some poor shots and hit some good ones. Some unsolid shots led to some birdies and some solid shots led to some bogeys."

Mickelson, who has 21 PGA Tour titles, missed most of the past six weeks to be with his wife, Amy, who gave birth to their third child three weeks ago. He missed the cut last week at the BellSouth Classic and didn't figure to be a factor.

"I probably need to shoot 5 or 6 under," Mickelson said of today's final round.

WILL JACK BE BACK?: His 43rd Masters was not fun, Jack Nicklaus said. And if the course conditions are the same in 2004 as they were this year, he may not play.

"The only way I can play this golf course the way it is is if it's fast," said Nicklaus, 63, who finished a second-round 77 in the morning and missed the cut at 162. "If it's like this again next year, I may drop out on Wednesday. I don't want to clutter up the field. I did this year.

"I didn't enjoy or compete this year. I didn't enjoy the last two days. I didn't play halfway decent."

Nicklaus said he would take it year by year. "I'd like to play," he said. "But I don't want to play if I play like I did."

MONEY MATTERS: Augusta National is forgoing sponsors this year, but that didn't affect the purse. Total prize money is $6-million, up $500,000 from a year ago, when Tiger Woods made $1.008-million for his win. Today's winner will get $1.08-million, with $648,000 to the runner-up. The 16th-place finisher gets $102,000.

SECOND-ROUND WRAP: Mike Weir completed the second round in the morning and had a four-stroke advantage over Darren Clarke. That was the largest 36-hole lead at the Masters since Greg Norman was ahead by four over Nick Faldo in 1996. The record for largest 36-hole lead at the Masters is five by Harry Cooper in 1936, Herman Keiser in '46, Nicklaus in '75 and Ray Floyd in '76. Only Cooper failed to win.

STREAKS END: Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer saw his consecutive cuts streak end at at 19. It was the longest active streak. Clearwater's John Huston also missed the cut for the first time. He had made the cut every time he teed it up since 1990, although he did not play in the tournament last year.

Fred Couples has made the cut in 19 straight, tying Langer for third best all-time. Gary Player holds the record of 24 straight from 1959-1982. Tom Watson made 21 in a row from 1975-1995. Gene Littler (1961-79) and Langer (1984-2002) also made 19 straight.

NO-SHOW: With no chance to make the cut after playing 35 holes Friday, former Florida Gator Chris DiMarco flew home to Orlando to watch his 7-year-old son's baseball game, and he received a little heat for his absence. "I swear, when I decided I wasn't going to play, I thought other guys were going to do the same thing (no one did)," DiMarco told the Gainesville Sun. "Obviously, Augusta is my favorite tournament. I meant no disrespect for Augusta. ... I gotta play dumb. I didn't know you didn't withdraw from Augusta."

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