NORTON, Mass. — Sergio Garcia opened with five birdies in seven holes, closed with an eagle, and wound up as the guy everyone was chasing Saturday at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
By everyone, that means 28 players within six shots of his lead with 36 holes to play.
And somehow, that includes Phil Mickelson.
On another day of soft conditions and plenty of birdies on the TPC Boston, Garcia had a 7-under 64 during a cool, cloudy morning that stood up for the 36-hole lead when the long and wild afternoon was over. The Spaniard was at 13-under 129, one short of the tournament record. He had a one-shot lead over Roberto Castro and Henrik Stenson.
Tiger Woods, in the 1-2-3 grouping with Mickelson and Adam Scott that attracted a massive crowd standing three-deep in spots, made a 35-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 67 and was among those within six shots of the lead.
Mickelson, however, managed to steal the show with a 71.
And this was no ordinary 71.
“I was playing terrible, and I shot even par,” Mickelson said. “I could easily have shot myself out of the tournament. I got it in the hazard I don’t know how many times. If I go on and play the way I believe I’m going to this weekend, I’m going to look back at those nine holes as the key to the entire tournament.”
Lefty went on some kind of crazy ride, completely losing his swing during one stretch when he looked closer to hitting Rhode Island than hitting a fairway. He drove left into the hazard on No. 9, way right into the hazard on No. 10 and would have found another hazard on the par-3 11th except for hitting a tree.
He hit into the gallery to the left on No. 12 and into the gallery to the right on No. 13. His tee shot on the par-3 16th came up short and into the water for double bogey. Mickelson closed with two birdies for a 71 and was five shots behind.
“It’s embarrassing to hit shots like that, and to have a bunch of people out there, playing with Tiger and having every shot exposed on TV … you know, it’s embarrassing,” Mickelson said. “But we all have our moments like that. And you just have to deal with it.”
His recovery shot on the 11th was so good that Mickelson didn’t bother explaining it. From a patchy lie, just inside 100 feet from the flag, the pin close to the edge, he took a full, hard swing with a wedge and hit it with so much spin that it rolled back to a few feet of the cup.
“To go ahead and try to play that shot with that much speed, and (he) didn’t have a whole lot of room up there … but he pulled it off,” Woods said. “And then he was struggling through that little stretch there. But he held the round together, and had a nice finish at the end.”
Asked about the shot at No. 11, Mickelson replied, “I could describe it, but nobody is going to understand that. It was a really good shot.”
He later tried. He mentioned the angle of attack and the angle of the face on the wedge and the weight … and then he gave up on the explanation.
“It’s not a very high percentage shot,” he said.
And just think — the second event in the FedEx Cup playoffs is not even half over.