Phil Mickelson made 10 birdies in his round of eight-under 64 to share the lead on Saturday at the BMW Championship when Vijay Singh three-putted his final hole.
Mickelson and Singh, both in the World Golf Hall of Fame, still have to fight off perhaps the strongest leaderboard in golf all year. They were at 16-under 200 going into a final round loaded with possibilities.
Rory McIlroy, going for his second straight FedEx Cup playoff win and his PGA Tour-leading fourth of the year, birdied the 18th to salvage an ordinary day with a 69. He was one shot behind with Lee Westwood, a former world No. 1, who made all five of his birdies on the back nine for a 68.
Dustin Johnson, who has finished no worse than fourth in the other two playoff events, had a 67 and was in the group two shots behind that included Adam Scott and Robert Garrigus, who is trying to play his way into the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake in two weeks.
Not to be forgotten is Tiger Woods, who turned his sloppy play around by chipping in from 25 feet on the ninth hole that began a run of four birdies in a five-hole stretch. He had to settle for a 71, ending his streak of six straight rounds in the 60s.
Woods was only three shots behind.
Westwood is playing these FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time, and already he found out what he was missing. Put some of the world’s best players together, and it is not unusual to see them all at a high level.
“The cream has risen to the top, hasn’t it?” Westwood said.
This follows the Deutsche Bank Championship in which McIlroy held off Louis Oosthuizen, Woods, Mickelson and Johnson. The opening week at The Barclays featured Nick Watney beating Ryder Cup pick Brandt Snedeker, Johnson and Sergio Garcia.
And now this — perhaps the strongest leaderboard in golf all year going into the final round, starting with two guys already in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Singh was the dominant figure throughout the day. The 49-year-old Fijian has not won on the PGA Tour in four years, and he was desperate to show that he could put four good rounds together and end that drought. He made enough birdies to offset a few silly mistakes — mostly short putts that he missed — and he held it together until the end. Singh was in trouble on the par-five 15th until he chipped in for birdie from 50 feet.
He followed that by missing a 4-foot par putt, only to answer with an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-three 17th. He was poised to take the outright lead until his approach to the 18th spun down a ridge, and he gunned the 45-foot putt about 5 feet by the cup and missed it coming back.
Singh has taken only 74 putts for the week.
Mickelson had his best score since he closed with a 64 to win at Pebble Beach in a final-round pairing with Woods. He has gone quiet since the Masters, but a change to a claw-style putting grip has coincided with improved play. Lefty felt his game turning around last week on the TPC Boston, where he put together four straight rounds in the 60s, and Saturday only affirmed it.
He finished the front nine with four straight birdies, caught Singh with a 10-foot birdie on the 13th, and then overcame a bogey on the 14th with three birdies in his last four holes. The most impressive was on the 17th, where he hit a soft cut with a 6-iron to a tight pin, gave it a little body English and saw it settle 6 feet away.