Phil Mickelson in the hunt at the Masters – Washington Post

Phil Mickelson thought he had played his way into Sunday’s final pairing at the Masters with leader Jordan Spieth until Justin Rose completed a furious back-nine charge to top Mickelson by one shot and earn the final tee time alongside Spieth — often viewed as a tactical advantage.

But Mickelson said he actually prefers playing in front of the final group. “I think in 2011 when I was in the final group watching [Louis] Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson in front of me make birdies, it was a lot harder to follow suit,” he said. “If I can start posting some birdies, it’s much more difficult to follow than it is to lead.”

Mickelson said a glance at the pin sheet Saturday, showing the third-round pin positions, convinced him he needed to be aggressive on the front nine, where the positions were easier to attack.

“The back nine pins were extremely difficult, and I felt like there weren’t a lot of birdie pins on the back other than the par 5s,” he said.

Still, his most memorable birdie Saturday was the curling, 41-foot putt he side-doored on No. 16. “Crazy,” he said. “I mean, it’s crazy to make that putt. I’m just trying to two-putt it. But I hit it all the time in practice. It’s slow up to the hole [but] fast past the hole. So it’s a difficult two putt. I had perfect speed, and it just kind of floated in the side door.”

Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, was effusive in his praise of Spieth. “He’s playing very good golf, and I think he’ll have a good round tomorrow,” Mickelson said. “If he were to come out on top, it would be great to have him in the champion’s dinner every year. He’s just a classy guy. So if he were to come out on top, it would be wonderful for the tournament, wonderful for the game. I’m going to try to stop him, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Tiger Woods’s 68 on Saturday was his lowest round in any tournament since August’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and his lowest in a major since the 2012 British Open.

Having missed two months nursing his back and fixing his ailing game, Woods has surprised many in the sport with his play these past few days.

Woods made three straight birdies on the front side, but bogeys on 14 and 18 prevented him from going really low. “I had my chances to make this a really special round,” he said.

No amount of video analysis or circumstantial evidence could make the case that the Woods of old is all the way back as convincingly as watching him play the par-5 13th hole Saturday.

It was all there: the driver flung in disgust as his tee shot sailed into the azaleas, the blurted F-bomb picked up by the CBS microphone and the unlikely scramble for a miracle birdie — punch-out to 174 yards, approach to 15 feet, drained putt — followed by the ligament-straining fist pump and accompanying roar of his massive gallery.

“Stupidly good birdie,” Woods described it.