NORTON, Mass. — Masters champion Charl Schwartzel has been around the TPC Boston long enough this week to know that a fairway metal is the best option off the tee on the 356-yard first hole.
Saturday was the first time he played the hole while furious — he had just made a sloppy bogey on the par-5 18th and was losing ground in the Deutsche Bank Championship.
“I was, to say the least, fairly upset,” Schwartzel said. “It’s sometimes very crucial to come back straightaway, otherwise your round can get away from you. The birdie on the first just got me going in the right mindset again.”
He turned that into a string of birdies — five in a six-hole stretch on the front nine — that carried the South African to another 5-under 66 and a share of the lead with Adam Scott and Bubba Watson.
Watson, who finally put some attention back on his golf, played in the morning and produced what he called a “boring” round of 64 that included an eagle on the seventh hole for the second straight day.
Scott, who won on the TPC Boston eight years ago for his first PGA Tour victory, played the 18th to perfection for an eagle, then kept moving up the leaderboard with enough birdies on the front nine for an 8-under 63, the low round of the tournament.
Schwartzel knows enough about the FedEx Cup — this is the second of four playoff events — that he could miss the opening tournament last week and still win the $10 million prize. That’s what Tiger Woods did in 2007 and what Jim Furyk did last year, although the latter was not planned.
He has a big fall schedule in front of him, so Schwartzel figured he needed some rest. His first playoff event is going far better than expected.
“Maybe it’s an omen,” he said with a smile.
The morning was filled with big cheers, mostly around one hole.
Brandt Snedeker hit 9-iron from 146 yards on the par-3 16th, and the ball spun back to the right and into the cup. Some 20 minutes later, Greg Chalmers also made an ace.
It proved to be a bigger boost for Snedeker, the start of a bizarre 1-5-3 on his card — the ace, followed by a sloppy bogey that got his attention, and an eagle putt on the 18th as he went on to a 64 and was one shot behind. Nick Watney, a two-time winner on tour this year, had another 67 and was two shots behind.
The leaders were at 10-under 132 as they work their way to a Labor Day finish.
“I’m happy to put myself in the hunt because I need a good week to move up in this FedEx Cup,” said Scott, who is at No. 23 in the standings. “I’m running out of time quick.”
The top 70 on the FedEx Cup list after this week advance to the third playoff event outside Chicago in two weeks, with the top 30 from there going to Atlanta for a shot at the $10 million prize.
PGA champion Keegan Bradley is still in good shape to get to the Tour Championship, though he was feeling low after a 76. Not only was it his second straight missed cut in the playoffs, it came at his hometown tournament, and concluded a week in which he threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park and presided over the coin toss at the Patriots’ preseason game.
“It was not fun,” he said. “Just a bad day.”
Typical for these FedEx Cup playoffs, there were other scores that were significant.
Ernie Els was among the last to qualify for the playoffs, though he still faced long odds. He barely advanced out of the first round and then shot a 65 on Saturday to move into a tie for sixth with a group that included Rickie Fowler.
“I’ve been working quite hard to get some kind of game going, and it seems like I’ve got it going a bit now,” Els said. “The putter is starting to cooper a little bit better.”
Els currently is using a belly putter. Phil Mickelson tried the belly putter for the second straight day, although it was more his long game that led to a 73. He was 11 shots behind and made the cut on the number — 1-over 143 — at the tournament he won four years ago.
William McGirt, the 125th and last man into these playoffs, kept his hopes alive with a second straight 69 that at least gave him a reasonable chance of moving on to Chicago.
Watson hasn’t missed many cuts this year. He really hasn’t done much of anything aside from his two wins in San Diego and New Orleans. He attributed it to getting accustomed to a little more celebrity.
“You win three times in less than a year, all the people are writing about you in the paper, you’ve got more fans, you’ve got a lot more friends, you’ve got a lot more family, you’ve got a lot more of everything,” he said. “For me, for getting a simple guy like myself, it’s not what I dream to do.”
He said he feared he might be sick because his energy was drained, then later realized that being in the spotlight required more energy. Watson also learned about the attention from his growing star power in France, when he joked about not knowing the names of some of the most famous landmarks and was criticized in Europe and at home.
Self-deprecating as ever, Watson had no problem making fun of himself or the situation in France. When asked about the landmarks in New England, he said, “There’s a fence or something, isn’t there? A green one?”
He was only joking about Fenway’s “Green Monster.”
“I love the Yankees, sorry,” he said. “They’re all going to hate me, anyways.”
The FedEx Cup playoffs ended for Ian Poulter, Anthony Kim and Stewart Cink, among others. They missed the cut and already were outside the top 70 on the list of players who are trying to advance to Chicago.