SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson drew the loudest cheers from the biggest crowd in golf history Saturday at the Phoenix Open.
Mickelson nearly aced the par-3 16th, hitting a 9-iron to a foot to set up birdie on the rowdy stadium hole packed with nearly 20,000 screaming fans.
"What's funny about that is 172 yards is a very tough 9-iron for me to get there, but I immediately take 5 yards off and in my head I had 167," Mickelson said. "The reason is you always have a little bit of adrenaline here, and the ball goes a little bit longer on 16.
"I played for a 167-yard shot and tried to hit just a comfortable or stock 9-iron, and the ball ended up flying that far and released to the hole. Having played this course and that hole over the years and knowing what your body does and how to adjust to it has helped me, and certainly it did (Saturday)."
Estimated at 179,022, the third-round crowd broke the record of 173,210 set last year, also on a Saturday at fan-friendly TPC Scottsdale. The event has drawn 467,030 fans for the week and is in position to break the mark of 538,356 set in 2008.
Mickelson birdied the final four holes and five of the last six for 7-under 64 and 24-under 189 overall, giving him a six-stroke lead over Brandt Snedeker.
"I know how good Snedeker is and how hot he can get with a putter," Mickelson said. "He can make birdie from just about anywhere. He's going to make a run (today). I, hopefully, will be able to keep pace."
The 42-year-old former Arizona State star has led after each round. He fell a stroke short of the tour record for 54 holes and matched the tournament mark set by Mark Calcavecchia in 2001.
In his 24th appearance in the event that he won in 1996 and 2005, Mickelson is trying to complete his third wire-to-wire victory and first since the 2006 BellSouth Classic, a 13-stroke blowout the week before the second of his three Masters victories.
"To me, the wire-to-wire isn't that important except for now I'm three rounds and the fourth one is kind of the more important one," Mickelson said.
"It would be an important thing because it's meant so much to me over my career having won this tournament, coming back as a past champion, and winning here in the town that has meant so much to me, to (wife) Amy and I, where we met, had our first two kids, went to college. It's a special place."