World number one McIlroy and American left-hander Mickelson, playing together in the penultimate group at the Masters on Friday, both produced sizzling back nines at Augusta National, storming home in 31 and 32 strokes respectively.
McIlroy, however, finished the day a distant 12 strokes behind halfway leader Jordan Spieth, while Mickelson edged within a more manageable eight strokes.
“I think a few guys can still catch him,” McIlroy, speaking to a small group of reporters, said of American Spieth, though he did not necessarily include himself on the list, saying he would need something special over the weekend.
“To shoot five under on the back nine makes me feel a bit better about myself going into the weekend.
“It was definitely a tale of two nines,” said the four-times major champion, who stumbled to the turn in four-over 40. “I just didn't have it on the front nine. It was nice to find something on the back nine.”
McIlroy, who with a Masters victory would become the sixth player to complete the career grand slam of all four modern majors, was not quite ready to award the green jacket to Spieth.
The Northern Irishman recalled his own meltdown at Augusta National in 2011 when he frittered away a four-shot lead in the final round.
“I know better than most what can happen with the lead around here,” McIlroy said.
Mickelson, meanwhile, said he did not expect Spieth to fold, but he was not ready to concede defeat either.
“A lot can happen on this golf course,” said the five-times major winner. “You never know what's going to happen in this tournament, and if something were to happen I want to be there to take over.”
Mickelson said it had been difficult for him to stay patient after trailing Spieth by so many strokes in the second round.
“It was tough not to force the issue and make some dumb mistakes,” he said after carding a four-under 68 to finish at six-under 138. “It would have been really easy to do but I shot a good round.” – Reuters
Original source: McIlroy’s grand slam hopes disappear