AUGUSTA, Ga. - The old saying is so familiar: The Masters doesn't start until the back nine on Sunday. Now we know the corollary: Sometimes Sunday starts on Saturday.
In a roar-filled, adrenaline-drenched span of 27 minutes Saturday, Phil Mickelson made two consecutive eagles and just missed a third, Lee Westwood went from five strokes ahead to one stroke down, all kinds of possibilities opened up and an interesting Masters leaped off the charts. All in 27 minutes.
"It seemed quicker," Westwood said, having finished 12 under par, taking a one-shot lead after Mickelson had taken it from him. Westwood was left wondering that if so much can be packed into 27 minutes, how much can a whole round bring Sunday?
Factor this into the equation: Tiger Woods, whose return put this Masters in a special category to begin with, is 8 under par and will be in the next-to-last group, playing for a fourth consecutive day with K.J. Choi. Throw in 50-year-old Fred Couples (7 under, including a chip-in eagle on 15) and you have a TV-friendly, spectator-friendly, even player-friendly Sunday.
"Yeah, it's a very player-friendly leader board when you're me and at the top of it," Westwood said. Seriously, he looked at the leader board and added, "I think that's what everybody wants to see."
Mickelson, after his 5-under 67, said, "I think we are going to have some excitement tomorrow, a real shootout."
Sunday at the Masters usually is dramatic, but it will have a long way to go to be as electric as this Saturday was. "It was probably one of those great days in golf," Westwood said.
Mickelson said: "There were roars going up all over the place. You couldn't figure out who was doing what, because there were roars happening simultaneously throughout the course."
None was louder than the one Mickelson received for sinking a 141-yard wedge shot for eagle on the par-4 14th hole, after his eagle 3 on the par-5 13th. His third shot on the par-5 15th rolled by the hole and looked like it might drop. "I didn't think anybody had three [in a row] and I was trying to go for that." Couples, playing No. 16, nodded at Mickelson in appreciation of the moment.
Briefly it seemed that Westwood was fading. He bogeyed the par-3 12th and made a disappointing par on No. 13. But he shot 68, with a solid finish of 1 under through the final four holes. Mickelson bogeyed 17, turning his one-shot lead into a one-shot deficit.
"I obviously wasn't privy to the things that you have been seeing, but I was well aware that somebody was making a charge," Westwood said. "That's what major championships are all about. They are tough ones to win because great players do great things at major championships."
Westwood has had a distinguished career, marked by success at the Ryder Cup, an inspired comeback from a deep slump, and ties for third in the past two majors. He has a definite strategy for Sunday, with Mickelson, Woods and other big names chasing him.
"Same as it was today: ignore them and just play my own game," Westwood said. "I've got my own little bubble in my own little world that I wander around in now."
Some of the other players on that leader board are accomplished bubble-busters. Mickelson said he is especially relaxed because his family is here with him.
Woods is feeling comfortable, back in contention after his layoff. "A good round tomorrow, you never know," he said. "I mean, we have a long way to go. This is only Saturday."
But what a Saturday.