Watson in pole position but Mickelson in the spotlight

Bubba Watson will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio

Bubba Watson waits to hit his second shot on the 18th hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament. Photo: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Bubba Watson waits to hit his second shot on the 18th hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament. Photo: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

 

It is less than two weeks before the US Open, and Tiger Woods is sidelined with a back injury, Phil Mickelson is involved in a federal insider trading investigation, and Rory McIlroy is dealing with the fallout from breaking off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki after their wedding announcements were posted

The stage is being set, but for what? The biggest domestic golf event or a reality show, “Real Golfers of Pinehurst No. 2”? The reigning US Masters champion, Bubba Watson, once a magnet for conflict, is blessedly and blissfully a spectator to all the drama. After a 3-under-par 69, his third sub-70 score, on Saturday, Watson will take the lead into the final round of the Memorial Tournament, where he has never finished in the top 20.

At 12-under 204, Watson is one stroke ahead of Scott Langley, who carded a 67. “I’m having fun out here, and that’s where I need to be,” said Watson, who expressed sympathy for his fellow competitors who found themselves in the spotlight for reasons unrelated to their scores.

“It’s just life can bog you down,” Watson said, adding: “Even though they might not be in the world to see, we all have our issues. Right now my issues aren’t in public, so I’m doing all right.”

Watson had an anxious moment on the 18th hole when his ball moved after he addressed it for his fourth shot. Because the ball did not advance, he was not penalised. “There was no issue,” said Watson, who reviewed video of the shot with PGA Tour officials in the scoring area before signing his scorecard.

He added: “They were talking about it over the radio when I got in there. They said right away, ‘No problem, no issue.’”

Mickelson, 43, was already likely to be the focus of the 114th US Open; he will be trying to win the only major that has eluded him, at the course where he finished second in 1999. But now he is sure to be the center of attention for reasons outside of golf.

On Thursday, Mickelson’s gallery during the first round at Muirfield Golf Club included FBI officials who followed him out of the scorers’ area to interview him (he directed them to his lawyers). After he signed for a third-round 72 on Saturday that left him tied for 47th at 2 under, Mickelson faced a news media crowd larger than what any the leaders would face a few hours later.

Mickelson reiterated what he had said in a statement released early on Saturday by his management group, in which he professed his innocence and said he was fully cooperating with officials.

“I can’t really go into much right now,” he said, adding: “I’ve done nothing wrong. Hopefully, shortly we’ll be able to discuss it further.”

Mickelson, who has 42 PGA Tour titles, including five majors, does not have a top-10 finish in 12 starts in this wraparound season. Since turning pro in 1992, he has never gone so deep into his schedule without a top-10 finish.

Asked if the investigation, which he has known about for at least several months, has been a distraction, Mickelson replied, “Not until Thursday.”

Mickelson has six runner-up finishes at the US Open. He has made it plain that his goal is to win more than one US Open title before he retires. “As a player,” he said, “you have to be able to block out whatever’s going on off the golf course and be able to focus on the golf course. It’s not going to change the way I carry myself. Honestly, I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not going to walk around any other way.”

Mickelson was asked how he would describe his round, in which he had three birdies and three bogeys. He hit 10 fairways and 11 greens and took 28 putts. “Interesting,” he said, breaking into a smile. “Most of my rounds are, but just for other reasons.”

Before the round, Mickelson arrived at the driving range 30 minutes before his tee time and began warming up next to Robert Garrigus, who looked up and said, “How’s it going, Phil?” Mickelson grinned and said, “Been an interesting evening.” He laughed, and so did Garrigus, who said, “I’m not sure I want to talk to you now.”

McIlroy, meanwhile, is among a group on six under after following up his nightmare 78 on Friday with a three-under-par 69 on Saturday.

The Northern Irishman, who held a three-shot lead after shooting a brilliant 63 in his opening round, looked set for another forgettable day as he bogeyed three of his first six holes.

However, birdies on the fifth, eighth, 17th and 18th, combined with an eagle three on the 11th, saw him climb back up the leaderboard and a good final round could yet see the BMW PGA Championship winner challenging the leaders. New York Times Service

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