Kiawah Island (United States) (AFP) -
Fifty-year-old Phil Mickelson clung to a one-stroke lead after Saturday's third round of the PGA Championship as he tries to become golf's oldest major winner.
The US left-hander built and squandered a five-stroke lead at windy Kiawah Island, but holed a clutch par putt from inside five feet at the 18th, the ball rolling around the cup rim, to stay in front.
Mickelson fired a two-under-par 70 to stand on seven-under-par 209 after 54 holes, one ahead of four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.
'I'm playing better than the score is showing,' Mickelson said. 'I was executing. Even though it slipped a couple times, it's significantly better than it has been. I'm making progress.'
With a victory, Mickelson would break the major tournament age mark set by American Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
Mickelson, who hasn't managed a top-10 major finish since 2016, birdied five of the first 10 holes to seize a five-stroke edge, then stumbled back with a bogey at 12 and double bogey at 13.
Koepka, playing with pain after right knee surgery in March, birdied the par-5 16th to match Mickelson for the lead but closed with a bogey to fall back while 'Lefty' saved par after going over the 18th green to keep his lead.
'I'm playing really well,' Mickelson said. 'I'm able to keep my focus and stay in the moment.'
Koepka, who shot 70, seeks his third PGA title in four years. Not since Tom Watson captured the 1980, 1982 and 1983 British Opens has a player won the same major three times in four years.
'Struggled really nicely,' Koepka said. 'I think that's probably the worst putting performance I've ever had,' Koepka said. 'It can't get any worse... the speed was so off.'
South African Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open winner, shot 72 to stand third on 211 with American Kevin Streelman fourth on 212 and South Africans Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout on 213.
- Major drought -
Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion who won his lone PGA in 2005, has not won a major since the 2013 British Open.
His 44th and most recent US PGA Tour victory came in 2019 at Pebble Beach, although he won twice in 2020 on the 50-and-over Champions Tour.
Wind direction switched Saturday on the punishing Ocean Course, the longest layout in major history at 7,876 yards. After blowing from the east all week, breezes were from the south on Saturday, creating tricky crosswinds.
Mickelson, who shared the lead with 2010 British Open winner Oosthuizen at 5-under when the day began, took the lead alone when the South African missed a six-foot par putt at the opening hole.
Mickelson had back-to-back birdies at the par-5 second and the third and again at the sixth, on a 17-foot putt, and par-5 seventh.
After two par saves, Mickelson holed a birdie putt from just inside seven feet at the 10th to reach 10-under and lead by five.
Trouble, however, found Mickelson when he found sand at 12 and was just short on a 26-foot par putt. He then found water off the tee at 13 on the way to double bogey and his lead was trimmed to a single shot.
After Koepka matched him for the lead, Mickelson went into sand under a golf cart off the tee at 16 and lipped out for birdie on the way to three closing pars.
Mickelson became the fourth player over 50 to lead a major after 54 holes after American Boros at the PGA and Australian Greg Norman and Tom Watson at the British Open.
Mickelson, ranked 115th, is only the sixth player since 1900 to lead majors in four different decades, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Snead, Ray Floyd and Gary Player.
Reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, 2019 US Open winner Gary Woodland and Chile's Joaquin Niemann each fired 71 to share seventh on 214.
If the 22-year-old South American wins, he would be the youngest winner in PGA Championship history, erasing the mark of 23 set by Rory McIlroy at Kiawah in 2012.
Only 12 players were under par for the tournament.
Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, with three bogeys and a double bogey on the first five holes fired a 76 to stand on 217, reached 5-under but bogeys at 11 and 12, a double bogey at 13 and a bogey at 14 dropped him from among the leaders.
American Jordan Spieth, seeking a victory to complete a career Grand Slam, shot 68 to stand on 216. He would need to match the greatest last-day fightback in PGA history for the triumph.
Four-time major winner McIlroy stumbled to a 74 to stand on 221.