NORTON, Mass. — Even after three wins over the last 15 months, Bubba Watson still gets nervous going into the final round with a chance to win. At least he has some company at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
A lot of company.
Right when Watson looked as though he might pull away Sunday at the TPC Boston, the wind became strong enough to make him think twice about the shots he wanted to hit. Three of them didn’t turn out real well and led to bogeys. He at least managed one more birdie for a 1-under 70 and the lead going into the last round.
Watson was one shot ahead of five players. Another five players were two shots behind. Seven other players were three shots behind. And even Phil Mickelson, who started the round 11 shots behind, suddenly was only four back.
“Anybody has a chance,” Watson said.
Watson likes his chances just a little bit better. Despite the wind causing some indecision on the back nine, he still rifled a 3-iron into the fairway and a wedge to 8 feet for birdie on the 17th to get some separation, even it was just a single shot.
“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.
Adam Scott (71) and Jason Day (67) were among five players in a tie for second. Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, and Jim Furyk were in the large group just two shots behind.
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.
Among those who need a strong finish Monday to advance to the next playoff event are Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els, with the latter two right on the bubble.
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.
“I think even from the time when I walked on the range until I got to the first tee, the wind certainly strengthened a lot,” Scott said. “I don’t know that we saw any real low scores out there this afternoon. It was playing pretty difficult.”
That could lead to a strong test on Labor Day.
Whenever two dozen players are separated by four shots, the winner is someone who comes out of the pack with a low number. That’s what Charley Hoffman did last year, closing with a 62 to win by five.
Scott isn’t sure that means the answer is to fire at flags.
“You’ve got to pick your spots,” the Australian said. “Yeah, there are some chances for sure, but it requires some good ball striking off the tee to give yourself a chance to go for the green.”