published Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Greeson: Peter Hanson’s special round pits him against Phil Mickelson now

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Here we are, looking back at a crazy Saturday at Augusta National that featured big strides forward and big slides back.

The leaderboard flipped on us, turning upside down at least twice and leaving everyone asking, “What just happened?” and “How did he do that?”

It also left us asking, “Who is Peter Hanson?”

Hanson, a Swede who grew up wanting to be Bjorn Borg or Mats Wilander, posted the round of the tournament with a 65 Saturday that was equal parts magic and mystery.

He packaged an assortment of laser-guided approaches into one tight bundle of greatness to emerge with the lead heading into the final round of only his second Masters. That’s right: Hanson has played all of five competitive rounds here, and he’s sitting at 9 under par, 18 holes away from a life-changing win.

“I’m very surprised,” Hanson said, “to shoot 65. I’ve been watching this tournament since I was a kid, and this is something you dream about.”

Or something you need therapy for. Hanson will sleep on the lead of a major for the first time.

He readily admits it’s going to be tough to get some sleep. He’s already planning on skipping the highlights from Saturday and the previews for today in an effort to block out what’s at stake.

Hey, Hanson’s honesty was admirable. His predicament is obvious, however.

Hanson will try to sleep in today, get some putts in before lunch and change his life late this afternoon. To do it, he’ll have to beat three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson, who will put a peg in the ground with him in the final group today.

“It’s going to be tough: This is a new situation for me,” Hanson said.

That is putting it mildly. New is pulling a pair of FootJoys out of the box. New is unwrapping a sleeve of golf balls or breaking in a visor.

This is so far beyond new it’s predictable. For most players, playing in the final group of the Masters for the first time is so foreign it needs a green card. It’s so otherworldly, NASA needs to be advised. It’s so off-the-charts of imaginable that even the world’s best golfers have a tough time imagining it.

And to do it against Mickelson, the guy who has become the current prince of Magnolia Lane and already has three green jackets in his Hall of Fame closet?

Please. Custer had better odds.

“He’d have to be the big-time favorite,” Hanson said.

And for contrast, here’s Mickelson’s view of today: “I love it here and I love nothing more than being in the last group on Sunday at the Masters. It’s the greatest thing in professional golf.”

Well, talk about your gimmes. Forget about David-and-Goliath or Rocky-and-Apollo references. Heck, this is bug-vs.-windshield type of mismatch. Hanson is armed with Mega Millions odds.

Well, you’d have to think so. Especially when you listen to Hanson, who played against Mickelson in the singles matches of the Ryder Cup 18 months ago.

“He came out motivated and made birdies on the first four holes,” Hanson said of Mickelson’s 4-and-2 win. “It was hard. He killed me; I had no chance.”

Does he have one today?

It’s hard to see it, but the numbers say “you bet.” The Masters champ has come from the final pairing 18 times in the last 20 years. And if anyone is going to put stock in numbers, it’s Hanson.

For a little more than the last 17 months, Hanson has been playing a No. 17 TaylorMade golf ball. It’s a way to honor his son Tim, who was born Nov. 17, 2010, at 5:17 in the afternoon, which is 17:17 in military time.

So maybe, just maybe, if Hanson can find a way to keep it close heading down the homestretch today, he’ll make something happen on, say the 17th hole. He has made birdie at No. 17 twice in the last three days.

But does he have a chance? Let’s go to the resident expert on final-group preparation at Augusta.

“You’re going to have to have some good things happen on Sunday,” Mickelson said with the confidence of someone who has enjoyed a trophy case of Sunday good times here. “That’s when it gets exciting.”

Or that’s when it gets terrifying, depending on your perspective and experience.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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