By Andrew Both
CHARLOTTE North Carolina (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson shot his best ever score at Quail Hollow, a nine-under-par 63, to move within two shots of leader J.B. Holmes after the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship on Saturday.
Mickelson picked up seven strokes in a stunning six-hole stretch before the turn to negotiate the front nine in 29 and move within striking distance of his 43rd PGA Tour victory.
“I’m not worried about winning (but) I would like to win because it’s a course I dearly love,” the five-time major champion, who is alone in third place, told reporters.
Fellow American J.B. Holmes (66) sank a 20-foot birdie from the fringe at the last to hit the front on 13-under 203, one stroke ahead of countryman Martin Flores (69).
“It was a very meaningful round for me,” added Mickelson, who attracted a huge gallery on a magnificent spring afternoon.
“I hit the ball well and was able to capitalize with some good putts, and it feels good because I haven’t been able to put it all together this year.
“My game is starting to feel sharp and mentally I was much more focused throughout the entire day.”
This week’s tournament signals the start of his preparation for the U.S. Open at nearby Pinehurst No. 2 next month.
Mickelson finished second there behind the late Payne Stewart in 1999 – one of six runner-up finishes in the only major he has yet to win.
But the Open will be far from Mickelon’s mind on Sunday as he attempts to improve on last year’s third-placing here.
Holmes, however, is unlikely to be a pushover. He spent the corresponding day last year at the Kentucky Derby, because he was injured, but hopes to gallop to a victory of his own on Sunday.
“It’s been a big change since last year,” said Holmes, who has been in good form recently.
He certainly appreciates his health, after having major surgery in 2011, before suffering two other less serious problems.
“I broke my ankle (before) the Derby and a couple of weeks after I ended up having arm surgery (for tennis elbow)," he said.
“It was the beginning of a long comeback but I worked really hard in the off-season and having a chance to win, it’s a great feeling. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Flores has also been in good form and he led for most of the back nine after three successive birdies from the 10th, only to bogey the last after pulling his drive into the creek and taking a penalty stroke.
Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, the 2010 champion, shot the second best round of the day, a 65, but still trails by seven shots.
He probably needs a repeat of his closing 62 from four years ago to have a chance of winning.
Halfway leader Angel Cabrera of Argentina bogeyed the first hole and never recovered as he carded 75 to join McIlroy on six-under.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)