DULUTH, Ga. -- Maybe it's the proximity to Augusta that has Gary Nicklaus stalking his first PGA Tour victory.
A tour rookie at age 31, the son of six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus finds himself tied for the lead entering today's final round of the BellSouth Classic at the TPC at Sugarloaf.
Nicklaus, who reeled off four birdies in a row (Nos. 10-13) en route to a 4-under-par 68 on Saturday, is tied at 11-under-par 205 with Phil Mickelson, who had a 69 Saturday.
Gary Nicklaus is named after three-time Masters champion Gary Player, whose best finish in the BellSouth was a second place in 1972.
Kenny Perry and Harrison Frazar are two shots off the lead and Jay Don Blake, Tom Pernice Jr., Steve Jones, Joey Sindelar and John Huston trail by three. Golfers four back are Stewart Cink, Dicky Pride, Chris Perry, Steve Flesch and Blaine McCallister.
"This golf course can yield some low scores, so given the fact there are so many guys within four shots of the lead, it is going to be important to get off to a quick start tomorrow," Mickelson said. "Those guys are going to be able to put together a pretty good runs at Gary and myself."
Of that group within four shots, only Mickelson, Jones, Huston, Cink and Perry are in this week's Masters.
Starting this year, the Masters no longer invites PGA Tour winners, meaning Gary Nicklaus won't be joining his father inside the ropes at the Augusta National this week if he wins today.
"Obviously, that is a tournament I'd love to play in," Gary Nicklaus said. "My father has been such a big part of it for so many years. I've sat back and watched him all these years, dreaming about one day being out there and doing the same thing he's doing. Of course I'd like to be in the Masters next week or next year."
While his father has the record for most Masters victories, Gary can help set a record in the BellSouth Classic. In the 31 previous years of the event, there has never been father-son winners. Jack Nicklaus won this event in 1973 and 1974. Gary was 4 years old in 1973.
Mickelson is the odds-on favorite to spoil Nicklaus' coming out party today. At age 29, Mickelson has won 14 times on the PGA Tour, including once this year.
His accomplishments this year dwarf those of Nicklaus. Mickelson is ranked 12th in the Official World Rankings; Nicklaus isn't in the top 200. Mickelson is 10th on the tour money list with more than $700,000; Nicklaus is 146th with nearly $47,000.
"Phil is obviously a great player," said Nicklaus, who has played with Mickelson one time. That came in the Western Junior when Gary was 19.
Mickelson knows Nicklaus will be the crowd favorite today, just as Tiger Woods was in mid-February when Mickelson won the Buick Invitational, ending Woods' streak of six consecutive victories. Hopefully, Mickelson won't wear a black shirt today as he did Saturday.
"I'm not trying to be the bad guy, I'm just trying to win the golf tournament," Mickelson said. "My expectations have gone from just winning one tournament this year to believing that I can win multiple events."
Maybe Gary's father will have the right words to carry him through to victory today. The two talk nearly every night when they are apart. Jack Nicklaus is in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week, playing in the Senior PGA Tour's Tradition tournament.
During the Florida swing of the PGA Tour which started in early March, Jack has been in the gallery at almost every tournament, lending support to Gary, the middle of his three sons.
"Of course, I wish he was here," Gary Nicklaus said. "He's got stuff he's got to do as well. It would be very special if he was here and I happened to do something very special tomorrow."
In nine starts this season, Gary Nicklaus has missed the cut five times, with his best finish being a tie for 28th at the Honda Classic.
"You never know when it's going to happen," Nicklaus said of his turnaround this week. "I just happened to tee it up on Thursday and started hitting the ball where I was looking and made a few putts."
"I don't think he has played to his ability this year, so it's good to see him playing well this week," Mickelson said.
Gary Nicklaus went through the PGA Tour qualifying school nine times before earning his card for the 2000 season. In the meantime, he bounced around the mini-tours and was even was on the European Tour in 1998. He was a Nike Tour member in 1999.
"For him to be out here, after so long and being able to survive the way he did on the mini-tours, which is not easy, and to continue to play golf for a living, I think that shows you that he is a tough competitor," Mickelson said.