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 FedExCup playoffs is just now half over.
Stenson often refers to tournaments as three and a half days of a marathon just to get to the back nine for a chance to win. If that's the case, this is starting to feel like a marathon with a 4-minute mile pace.
The cut was at 1-under 141, ending the season for some players who have no chance of being in the top 70 in the FedExCup to advance to the third playoff event in two weeks north of Chicago.
Woods didn't feel as though he got much out of his round, and a radio reporter suggested he might be capable of a round lower than 65 if he puts it all together.
"There's going to have to be to get back into this thing," Woods said. "There's so many guys up there that are 9 under par or better. There's a ton of guys up there. It's going to take a couple of low rounds."
Stenson had eight birdies and a clean card in his round of 63. Castro was 7 under for his round at the turn and had to settle for a 65 after a rough patch in the middle of his back nine. Matt Kuchar and PGA Champion Jason Dufner each had 66 and were three shots behind. Justin Rose had a 63 and was another shot back, along with Jordan Spieth, who had a 66.
Garcia is not a regular at the second FedExCup playoff event. He prefers to take this week off to rest, but he couldn't guarantee that he would be among the top 70 in the standings after the Deutsche Bank Championship who will advance to the third event.
So far, it looks like a good move.
"Unfortunately, I didn't play well enough and it was touch-and-go if I was going to make the BMW without playing here," said Garcia, who is at No. 55. "Sixteen guys could easily pass me if they played well. So we decided to come here and make a little bit of an extra effort of playing five weeks in a row, which I don't usually enjoy very much."
Garcia looked as if he would be much higher in the FedExCup standings earlier this year, when he had top-10s in a World Golf Championship, the Masters and The Players Championship. But his year took a bad turn off the course. During a two-week spat with Woods that began at The Players Championship, Garcia jokingly said during a Q-and-A at an awards dinner in London that he would invite Woods over during for dinner during the U.S. Open and serve fried chicken.
He apologized the next day, though he was clearly rattled. Garcia hasn't finished in the top 20 since.
"Everything has been kind of a little difficult, but it's good," Garcia said. "It's been a good learning experience. So I think that you always have to try to take the positives out of all those things and learn from your mistakes. And hopefully, (they) make you a better player, a better person."