CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – The winds came up Friday, cold and blustery over the BMW Championship.
It didn’t matter, because there is nothing that makes Sergio Garcia’s blood warm like the calendar turning to September in a Ryder Cup year.
Garcia burns for the Ryder Cup, and he appears ready to begin taking his game up another gear with the matches at Gleneagles in Scotland just three weeks away.
Garcia blitzed Cherry Hills with a 6-under-par 64, taking the second-round lead in the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. At 8-under 132, he is a shot ahead of Ryan Palmer (64) and two ahead of world No. 1 Rory McIlroy (67) and Billy Horschel (66).
It’s a strong leaderboard heading into the weekend, with Bubba Watson (66) among the group of players just four back and with Adam Scott (66), Rickie Fowler (66), Jordan Spieth (70) and Henrik Stenson (69) five back.
Garcia won the Qatar Masters earlier this year, his 11th European Tour title. He’s looking for his ninth PGA Tour title, his first since winning the Wyndham Championship two years ago.
You don’t usually see Garcia get overly excited about taking the lead midway through a tournament. It might have something to do with the fact that he has seized 36-hole leads nine times in his PGA Tour career but closed the door just once. He’s 0 for his last eight.
Still, Garcia is looking to build momentum for Gleneagles, and he isn’t about to get ahead of himself.
“After a couple weeks where I didn't play my best, and I didn't feel quite that comfortable, it's nice to at least put two solid rounds together here,” Garcia said. “I'm looking forward to playing well on the weekend, too. And then, obviously, get ready for the Ryder Cup.”
Garcia is 16-8-4 in Ryder Cup play, helping the Euros win the cup four of the six times he has played in the matches.
Wearing Euro blue on Friday, Garcia stirred up the crowd early with some front-nine fireworks. He holed a bunker shot at the second hole for birdie. He holed a 126-yard lob wedge for eagle at the seventh hole.
Even an earache didn’t slow him. Garcia said his left ear began bothering him just before he holed that lob wedge for eagle.
“It was a little bit uncomfortable,” Garcia said. “At first it was like a beeping sound in my ear, and then it kind of popped. I mean it's happened before, but usually I kind of blow it, and it gets back."
But, for some reason, it just didn't feel quite the same.
“It’s definitely better. It was uncomfortable probably for five or six holes, and then it got a little bit better . . . But it shouldn't be too big of a deal.”
Cherry Hills, playing firm and fast on Thursday, was softened by a little more than a half inch of rain over night. While more receptive greens helped scoring, blustery winds were a factor, making approach shots tricky to the smallish greens here.
Garcia hit just five fairways and only 10 greens in regulation, but his short game made up for most of his mistakes. He needed just 21 putts Friday. He scrambled, holding together his round in the end. He pulled his approach at the 17th into the water, but he made a nice up-and-down to save par. He rolled in a 13-foot birdie at the last to take sole possession of the lead.
“It's nice to be able to put yourself up there as often as possible, but we still have two days to go,” Garcia said. “I need to feel like I played better than I did the last two days. I didn't play badly, don't get me wrong, but I feel like I was playing better at the British Open and at Bridgestone. So hopefully I'll be able to do that.”
All of Europe will take notice if he does.