NORTON, Massachusetts — It’s a good thing for Adam Scott that the player of the year on the PGA Tour is not decided by an audience vote. His caddie, Steve Williams, got more shout-outs from the fans following his group on Friday at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Such was Scott’s lot when he found himself in the marquee pairing with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who have a firm hold on the golf viewing public, if not the award.
Mickelson gave his multitude of supporters bragging rights with an opening eight under 63 on Friday at the Tournament Players Club of Boston, tying for the lead with Brian Davis. Woods carded a 68 and Scott a 73, on an overcast day in which Mickelson’s play broke through the gray.
Mickelson closed with a 65 on Sunday at the Barclays in New Jersey to finish two strokes behind the winner, Scott, in the first tournament of the four-event Tour playoff. On Friday he picked up where he had left off, sinking putts from everywhere.
Mickelson covered his first nine in a seven under 28. Included in that number were 10 putts, half from outside 11 feet. Mickelson followed a bogey at No. 1, his 10th hole, with a two-foot putt for eagle at the par five second, and had a sub 60 round firmly in his sights.
But, for the second time in seven months, a first-round 59 eluded him. At the Tour event outside Phoenix in February, Mickelson’s sub-60 bid ended when his putt at the last hole rimmed out.
On Friday, it got away from him on his 13th hole, a drivable 298 yard par four. Mickelson chunked his second shot, a 54-foot chip, and had a 33-foot chip for his third. He got up-and-down for par, but in his mind, he had lost his shot at 59.
The course record of 61, held jointly by Mike Weir (2008) and Vijay Singh (2006), was still in play when Mickelson came to his final hole, the ninth. Needing a birdie to tie the mark, he hit his drive into foliage to the right of the fairway and was fortunate to find his ball and have a shot out of the shrubs.
“I just mentally went blank for a swing,” Mickelson said. “It happens.”
After punching out, Mickelson hit his third shot to 45 feet. His par attempt came up six feet short. He finished with 25 putts.
Mickelson and Woods have been in the same grouping 33 times on the tour dating to the 1997 PGA Championship. Woods has carded the lower score 16 times, Mickelson 13. The first 23 times they were paired together, Woods averaged a 69.0 to Mickelson’s 70.3. The last 10 times, Mickelson has averaged a 69.3 to Woods’ 70.6.
Does being paired with Woods bring out the best in Mickelson? “After today it’s hard to think any differently,” Mickelson said.
Nine holes into the round, Woods was nine strokes behind Mickelson.
Mickelson, who has never won player of the year honors, would like to make the decision easy for everybody.
“If I finish off with one or two wins this year and win the FedEx Cup, I think that would be enough to get the player of the year,” Mickelson said, adding, “That would mean a lot to me.”