Sudden death

Phil Mickelson’s 18-inch tap-in makes it a bogey on the 72nd hole and a tie with Charles Howell at -16. We’ll drop the “III” after Howell’s name, assuming you know it’s not his father or grandfather out here. Phil shot a 68 today, Charles a 65 — best Sunday among the leaders. The sudden-death playoff will start at the 18th tee.

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The 72nd hole

Charles Howell chipped to 10 feet and sneaked the par putt into the left side of the cup. he’s smiling for the first time in an hour. Phil Mickelson sets up from the left rough, the ball a little above his feet … and leaves his approach shot short and left of the green. Mickelson must get up and down to win in regulation. Otherwise, it could be the Nissan Open’s fifth playoff in the past decade. One of those, in 2003, Howell lost to Mike Weir. He’s called it his most frustrating defeat.

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1 hole to go: Phil’s back in front!

Phil Mickelson left his 25-foot eagle putt at the 17th hole about a foot short, but he tapped for birdie to get back to -17 and take a one-stroke lead over Charles Howell III. A minute later, Howell’s second shot on No. 18 came out of the right fairway rough weakly and rolled up short of the green. He’ll have to get up and down to par and then hope Mickelson flubs on 18. And now this! Mickelson drives into the left rough on 18. It’s far from over, and for the 10th year in a row, the Nissan is going to be won or lost on the 72nd green.

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And then there were two contenders

Basically, it’s down to Charles Howell III (through 17 and in the right rough on 18) and Phil Mickelson (through 16 and 25 feet from an eagle on 17), tied at 16 under par. Robert Allenby (through 17) is two strokes back, Ernie Els finished at -13. Today’s flop was Paddy Harrington, +3 through 16 and back in a tie for seventh.

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Tied up!

Charles Howell III lagged a 50-foot eagle putt at the par-5 17th to within three feet and … we’ve typed that much before waiting, waiting … eased in the birdie putt to tie Phil Mickelson at -16. It’s the first time Mickelson has been tied today. Now we’re thinking Phil’s shirt isn’t green, it’s a sickly chartreuse.

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And down the stretch they come

A final welcome to the Daily News’ live commentary on the final round of the 81st Nissan Open from Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. I’m columnist Kevin Modesti. To get you up to date as leader Phil Mickelson’s group plays the 16th hole: Mickelson has been up by as many as three shots but has kept Charles Howell III (one shot back) and Robert Allenby (two back) in contention with a chunked chip shot at the ninth hole and a missed two-foot putt at 13. Howell, a two-time winner and 10-time runner-up on the PGA Tour, has gone from -12 to -15 in six holes.

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Quiet, please

Hay-fever-ridden Daily News columnist Steve Dilbeck is back from walking the course to report he twice had the urge to sneeze just as a player was about to tee off a few feet away. Dilbeck: “You know how they want you to be so damn quiet it’s irritating?” He held off both times. Daily News golf writer Jill Painter got a sudden cough in a similar situation Saturday and managed to hold it down to a soft hacking noise. This is another good argument for never leaving the press tent.

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