AUGUSTA, Ga. >> A cluttered leaderboard. A magical golf course. A perfect, sunny day seemingly made for low scores. A guy named Phil Mickelson going for a fourth green jacket.
Welcome to Sunday at the Masters, where excitement lurks in every corner of the course Bobby Jones built and the 2012 finale has the makings of a good one.
Players at the back of the pack were on the course before noon Sunday, including Tiger Woods, who opened the day with two pars and a birdie, but was 11 shots out of the lead, playing out the string and not for the green jacket.
In the day’s final twosome, Mickelson will tee off a shot behind leader Peter Hanson. The two put on a show Saturday — Hanson shooting 65 and Mickelson carding a 66 on a day in which eight players had at least a share of the lead.
"I love it here, and I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters," Mickelson said. "It’s the great thing in professional golf."
Last year, there were eight in the lead on the back nine of a wild Sunday at Augusta before Charl Schwartzel came out of the pack to win by two.
This year, there are nine within five shots of the lead to start the day.
That includes Louis Oosthuizen, whose only major victory at the 2010 British Open came without the typical pressures of the final day at a big tournament. He came into Sunday leading by four and added three more shots to the margin while closing it out at St. Andrews. He’ll start the final round at Augusta National at 7-under par, playing alongside Bubba Watson, who has broken par three straight days and comes in at 6 under.
"It’s what we play for, is to have a chance at winning a major going into Sunday," said Oosthuizen, who will try to join Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman and become the third South African to take the green jacket since 2008.
Matt Kuchar, the 2010 PGA Tour money leader, is at 5 under, then there’s a group of four another shot back: Hunter Mahan, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.
"When you’re leading a tournament, that’s not the type of golf course you want to be on," Harrington said. "You want to be on probably a boring golf course — which this ain’t."
No course is boring when Mickelson is doing his thing.
After playing it patient for 45 holes, he put on a short-game clinic on the back nine Saturday.
The highlight — a full flop shot with a 64-degree wedge off a tight lie from the back of the 15th green. He dropped it 4 feet from the hole and made the birdie, part of a back-side 6-under 30 that put him squarely in the hunt for his fourth green jacket.
Playing in front of Mickelson, Hanson said he could hear the roars. But he didn’t fold. He made four birdies over the last five holes to take the lead. He has never been closer than seven shots of the leaders in his previous 17 majors.
The winner at the Masters has come from the final group in 19 of the last 21 years.
Hanson knows controlling his golf shots will, of course, be key on a pressure packed Sunday at Augusta. But the 34-year-old Swede also knows there’s more to it than that.
"Emotions, of course," he said. "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."