Phil Versus Mr. X

For Fred Couples and Jason Dufner fans, Saturday at the Masters was not a good day. The overnight leaders both shot 3-over, 75, to fall all the way down the leaderboard to T11. And it turns out they’ll be paired together again tomorrow.

But with the leader, Peter Hanson, at 9-under, it’s pretty much a lost cause for the two of them. Hanson will be paired with Phil Mickelson who is one shot back at 8-under.

South African, Louis Oosthuizen, is two strokes back at 7-under.

The irrepressible Bubba Watson is three stokes back at 6-under.

Matt Kuchar is four strokes back at 5-under.

And four very talented guys are five strokes back at 4-under: Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Henrik Stenson, and Hunter Mahan.

The winner most often comes from the lead group at the Masters, but if the two of them falter, any of the others has the talent to go low enough to catch them.

Hanson is an interesting guy. He’s sort of been a largely unknown fixture on the European Tour for the last couple of years but he’s slowly been building his resume. He played on the World Cup for Sweden in 2007 and was on the winning, European Ryder Cup team in 2010. Beyond making the cut almost every time he’s played in the majors, he hasn’t particularly distinguished himself in the majors. Except for the U.S. Open where he’s finished T18, T16, T7 the last three years:

U.S. Open has been my best major so far.  I had a good chance last year finishing seventh.  I think we all tried to play for second when Rory was ten shots ahead.  U.S. Open so far has been my best major, and I kind of like the way they set up the golf course, long and tough.  Not too low of scoring.  So I think that really helped me this week, was all; that we have not seen those really low scores, get to go 15‑under par, 14‑under par.

He’s also taken a liking to the four World Golf Championships posting 5 top-10s since 2009 and finishing T4 at Doral this year. Against those highly ranked fields, it indicates excellent play on his part.

He attributes this to making the decision to move to the States for the better playing and practice conditions:

I think moving here; when I took that decision, 2 1/2, three years ago, moving to the States and giving myself good practice facilities down in Orlando, Lake Nona.. I think my game has improved steadily since then.  But I think it’s starting to show off now.  Maybe getting a little bit more comfortable in these kind of situations.

I love the countryside, and the way I’ve been brought up back in Sweden, I’ve always enjoyed the fall and the winter with all the hunting and fishing and stuff like that, but I also kind of feel now that it was too much of that, and being over here, we’re pretty much walking out [to the practice facility] every day; 30 yards from my house, I’ve got a perfect putting green, the range in front and the balls are out there, so the people down at Lake Nona, they do a great job, and I think it really helped my career to where it is now.

But there are distractions he has learned to manage along the way, like The Golf Channel:

My first U.S. Open I played, 2005, I came over here and I watched all of the buildup to it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, almost as a spectator to the event.  It was great, to listen to that and see how they analyze everything. But I think as a player, sometimes too much information is not very good.

What’s a better pastime to keep his mind off of Sunday’s final round? His wife and kids. Anything to keep his mind off The Golf Channel and kill the time until his 2:40 tee time.

We have a great house here, so probably spend time with the kids.  We have a nice house with toys in the backyard and playground.  I’ll take it pretty easy.  To me the key thing is try to not watch too much of the buzz around this, because I know there will be.  Just try to stay away from it and come up here tomorrow and do my normal routine with my putting before lunch and do my stuff and then get to the range and try to just enjoy the moment on the first tee.

In his favor, he played with Phil the first two days, so he is used to the atmosphere a superstar like Phil creates, not just with his play, but with his presence. And Hanson may be able to turn it to his advantage:

I played with Phil the first couple of days, and I was trying to use that as a bit of motivation for me, as well.  I mean, the crowds are so much behind Phil and they love him, and I understand why; the way he plays, when we see that lob shot that we looked at so close on 15 there.

I’m just going to try to enjoy it.  Like I said, I tried to stay pretty close to him the first couple of days and let it feed off a little bit.  It’s great playing in front of these fans and it’s just an amazing feeling.

We’ve played a lot of golf together, and it’s just great to play in front of big crowds like it is here, and with all the support being behind him, hopefully it can feed off a little bit towards me, as well.

And besides that, how does he plan to manage his final round?

Emotions, of course.  That’s going to be the biggest thing.  This is kind of a new situation to me, being in the spotlight like this, and playing the last group.  So it’s going to be about controlling my emotions and trying to be in the present and trying to play the same kind of golf that I’ve been doing today.

As for Phil “The Thrill,” he doesn’t need very much to motivate himself:

I just feel really confident in the way I’ve been playing and the way I’ve been putting and in this setting and on this golf course.

I love it here and I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters.  It’s the greatest thing in professional golf.

I don’t think we’ll need much motivation to watch it all unfold.

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