NORTON, Mass. - For all that went wrong for Bubba Watson on the back nine Sunday, at least he still had the lead at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Right when he was starting to pull away in the third round at the TPC Boston, Watson lost control off the tee and made three bogeys in a five-hole stretch, then failed to get up-and-down for birdie from just behind the par-5 18th green. He still managed a 1-under 70 to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the second FedEx Cup playoff event.
“It’s always nice to be in the final group because then you know what everybody is doing. If you play slow enough, you’ll be two holes back, so when you know what you have to do,” said Watson, one of golf’s quickest players. “It’s a good position to be in. That’s where you want to be. Every week, that’s what we try to do, is get in the final group because that means you have a great chance.”
Even so, the Labor Day finish figures to be wide open.
Phil Mickelson even has a chance. He holed out a 7-iron from the rough on the 12th hole for eagle on his way to a 63, and wound up among two dozen players separated by four shots with 18 holes remaining.
“It’s not even that there’s so many guys,” Brendan Steele said. “It’s who the guys are, too. There’s a lot of talent there. Somebody is going to have to definitely go and take this tournament. It’s not going to be given to them.”
The tournament became so wild over the final hour that Steele couldn’t even find his name on the first two pages of the electronic leaderboard after a bogey on the 14th. He rolled in a long birdie putt up the ridge on the 16th, then hit 5-iron to 4 feet for eagle on the last hole for a 67 and was in a six-way tie for the lead.
That’s nothing new for the TPC Boston. Six years ago, there was a five-way tie for the lead going into the final round in the Deutsche Bank Championship. Adding to the stakes this year is the FedEx Cup, with the winner assuring himself a spot among the top five at the Tour Championship when 30 players have a shot at the $10 million prize.
Watson moved to 13 under after a short birdie on the 10th to build a two-shot lead. But he was wild to the left on the par-3 11th for bogey, and he had to scramble for bogey on the 12th after a poor tee shot. He reclaimed the lead with a birdie on the 17th.
Watson was at 11-under 202 as he goes after his third win of the year, and by far the biggest of his career.
The new long shot of these playoffs is Chez Reavie, who had a 68 and was one shot behind. Reavie started the season on a major medical exemption, meaning he had 13 events to earn $673,983 and keep his card. He missed his mark through June, then got into enough tournaments and did well enough to qualify for the playoffs.
At No. 87 this week, he now has a good chance to get to the third playoff event outside Chicago - and maybe even the Tour Championship at East Lake for the first time in his career.
Not bad for a guy who, despite having earned more than $1 million this year, isn’t even eligible for the Fall Series because he won’t have full standing again until next year.
“It’s been a strange year,” said Reavie, who missed the second half of 2010 with a knee injury he didn’t know existed. He had his meniscus repaired in his right knee, along with a rebuilt ACL using the ligament from his knee cap.
Mickelson, who is using a belly putter this week, had three straight birdies early in his round, a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch in the middle and finished with a two-putt birdie from 10 feet. He finished his round some two hours before the leaders even went to the range, not very optimistic that he would be in the mix.
The wind arrived, however, and while it made a two of the par 5s easy to reach, it caused some confusion and became even more punishing when balls strayed from the fairway.
Of the last eight players to tee off in the third round, Jerry Kelly had the best score at 68. That put him in the mix, just one shot behind. Those players in the last four groups had a combined score of only 3 under.
Now, it’s anyone’s game on Monday, when the wind again is likely to be a factor.