CARMEL, Ind. – Chased to the tornado shelters by spectacular storms Friday night, we exited Saturday to discover that the golf clocks had been turned back.
To circa 1999. Or maybe 2007. But it sure felt like the PGA Tour had called in a throwback weekend.
Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods joining to script a big part of the story line on yet another day of premium scoring conditions at Crooked Stick Golf Club? Who is broadcasting this BMW Championship, the History Channel? Here they are with a combined 56 years of PGA Tour service, 21 major championships and $233,915,594 to sit 1-2-3 in career money (for the record, the order would be Woods, Singh Mickelson), and darned if they aren’t at the center of things here at this week’s third FedEx Cup playoff tournament.
Crazy, sports world, eh? Because on a weekend when baseball’s brightest pitching star is shelved at the tender age of 24 out of concerns for his health, guys who have been going head-to-head in this PGA Tour business since the first Clinton Administration are still strutting their stuff.
Chalk it up to the glory of golf, and give credit to these FedEx Cup playoffs for keeping the lads’ interest deep into the calendar, but there was ticklish fun to look up at a leaderboard and see the Tour’s dominant names for so many years throwing down a combined 22 birdies. Who cares that Mother Nature has turned this Pete Dye creation into a shooting gallery?
It’s a delectable leaderboard. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Phil?
“The only glimpse (of the leaderboard) I saw did not have me on top, so I still have some work to do.”
Come on, Lefty. Don’t spoil the storyline. Besides, you spoke too soon after your blistering round of 8-under 64. That’s because an hour later, Singh three-putted from just beyond 40 feet to bogey the par-4 18th to squander his lead and drop into a deadlock with Mickelson at 16-under 200.
That’s right: Mickelson and Singh will anchor today’s sprint to the finish line – and there’s no other way to describe what will unfold in Round 4 of the BMW than to call it that. A sprint. No playing it safe at a tournament where par is akin to slamming it in reverse.
“I’m going to be aggressive,” Singh promised.
Chances are, so will the others, because on a week of brutal rain, Crooked Stick, while not totally defenseless, certainly isn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of the glitzy titanium-toting crowd that is chasing a $1.44 million check. While the field average for Round 3 crept closer to the par of 72 (it was 70.771, up from 69.471 and 69.814), there are green lights all over this place.
Now normally such soft and cushy conditions make tournament officials cringe, because birdie-fests tend not to offer the separation between the really good and the pretty good. This week is the exception, and while we glow about the presence of titans named Mickelson, Singh and Woods, the wider focus includes arguably the best 54-hole leaderboard on the 2012 PGA Tour season.
Of the top eight names, six are ranked 22nd or better, and all of them generate a bit of a buzz.
Having matched his best round of the season, Mickelson hurdled 13 players to get into a share of the lead with Singh, who posted 69, his highest score thus far. But at 16 under, it’s not as if they can consider it a two-man race, not with a pair of heralded Brits, Rory McIlroy (69) and Lee Westwood (68), tugging at their tails. At 14 under and just two off the lead, Adam Scott (66) is tied with Dustin Johnson (67) and Robert Garrigus (66), who seemingly wasn’t a factor until he eagled the par-5 15th, birdied the par-4 16th and birdied the par-3 17th.
And as if that’s not enough star power for you, there’s a certain icon sitting alone in eighth, his round of 1-under 71 feeling like 81, and leaving a sour taste in his mouth, even if he is at 13 under and just three back.
Woods was still smoldering about the way in which he began the day, one that looked even worse when compared with Mickelson. Whereas the left-hander went out in 32 with five birdies, Woods played the front in 38 with four bogeys.
“I wasn’t playing very good. I didn’t hit any good shots,” said Woods, who began the day just one off Singh’s lead. “I needed to get back in the tournament.”
He did just that, starting with a chip-in birdie at the ninth, which he followed with birdie rolls at the 10th, 11th and 13th. Though he rode home with five pars, Woods was in a better mood. “I’m within reach.”
True, but the problem for Woods is this: So are a lot of other talented names.
The fact that one of them is Singh might come as a surprise to those who focus on his age (49) and the fact that he hasn’t won since 2008, but it doesn’t faze Scott at all.
“It wasn’t that long ago he was dominating us, winning more than anyone,” said Scott, who birdied five of eight holes starting at the par-4 eighth to ignite his charge. “I’m not really surprised. He seems pretty motivated the last few months.”
Truth is, the motivation level of the PGA Tour’s finest is worth embracing because for a third straight week, the FedEx Cup playoffs have delivered. Two weeks ago, Nick Watney held off Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker and Johnson to win The Barclays. That was followed by McIlroy squeezing to the finish line ahead of Louis Oosthuizen and Woods at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Regardless of what happens today, consider it three-for-three, because if you like your playoff stage to showcase the best talent, the PGA Tour has delivered.