NORTON, Mass. — Sergio Garcia was doing everything right. He had the lead going into the third round. He kept bogeys off his card and made two birdies on the front nine.
And he was losing ground Sunday in the Deutsche Bank Championship.
“You could make a lot of birdies if everything went exactly the right way, kind of like it went on the back nine for me,” Garcia said. “But you have to be patient and just wait for the right time.”
Garcia regained control on the back nine of the rain-softened TPC Boston, making five birdies for a 6-under 65 that gave him a two-shot lead over Henrik Stenson. Garcia hit 4-iron from 218 yards onto the 18th green for a two-putt birdie as darkness settled over New England on this longest of days.
But nothing is close to being settled at this FedEx Cup playoff event.
Not with such a soft course, with preferred lies, with mint conditions on the putting surfaces and the world’s best players — most of them, anyway — in top form. There were 332 birdies and 10 eagles in the third round, translating to sub-par holes 32 percent of the time.
“There’s heaps of low scores out there,” Stenson said after his 66. “You have to keep making birdies if you want to have anything to do with this tournament. Today was no different. It’s going to be the same tomorrow. I’m sure everyone is coming at us from all different angles.”
Tee times have been moved up to Monday morning because of the threat of more rain.
Garcia was at 19-under 194, though the Spaniard isn’t great at protecting the 54-hole lead. His record is 3-7 when he has at least a share of the lead going into the last day. And this Labor Day figures to live up to its name. It will take hard work to stay there.
Graham DeLaet of Canada all but locked up a spot on the Presidents Cup team with a 62 that left him three shots behind with Steve Stricker, who had a 63 and took a big step toward making the U.S. team for the matches next month at Muirfield Village.
PGA champion Jason Dufner had a share of the lead until cooling off on the back nine. He had a 66 and was tied for fifth at 15-under 198 with Robert Castro (68).
About the only ones who couldn’t keep up were the star attractions at the start of the week — Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, who started the third round five shots out of the lead, had his second straight 71, and this one wasn’t exciting at all. He had three birdies, three bogeys, 12 pars and wound up 12 shots behind.
Woods didn’t get anything going early and fell apart on the back nine, starting with a tee shot into a hazard well right of the 10th fairway. He began the back nine with three straight bogeys and ended with a three-putt par on the 18th for a 1-over 72. It ended six straight rounds in the 60s in the FedEx Cup playoffs, and much worse, left him with no chance of winning going into the off week. He was 13 shots back.
“I just didn’t have it today,” Woods said. “I just didn’t hit it well. I didn’t make anything. I had a bad day at the wrong time.”
The average score was 68.2, and anything higher than that meant losing ground.
“We can’t control the weather,” Garcia said. “And you’ve just got to go out there and try to play the best you can. And I was very happy to see that my best was 6-under.”
Monday is filled with plenty of ramifications.
Garcia is trying to end a troublesome season with his first PGA Tour victory of the year, trying to move past his humbling moment this spring when a public spat with Woods led to Garcia making a racially insensitive “fried chicken” comment at a London dinner. Stenson has done everything but win in the last two months — third at the Scottish Open and PGA Championship, runner-up at the British Open and a World Golf Championship.
Stricker’s goal when he showed up at the Deutsche Bank was to make the Presidents Cup team so that U.S. captain Fred Couples wouldn’t have to consider using a pick, if Stricker even wants to be picked. Now only three shots behind, Stricker is thinking more about a chance to win for the first time this year, go to the Presidents Cup and set up a family working vacation at Kapalua next year.
The top 70 in the FedEx Cup advance to the third playoff event in two weeks north of Chicago. Ernie Els is among those on the cusp. Ian Poulter, despite a pair of late bogeys, had a 66 and was six shots out of the lead. He appears safe for Chicago, and now can try to think about qualifying for the Tour Championship for the first time.
Rory McIlroy made the cut on the number and still was lingering at the bottom of the pack after a double bogey. Then, he ran off eight birdies over his last 13 holes, with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki showing up for the last two hours. McIlroy was too far back to win, but he can make his bid for the Tour Championship a lot easier.
The third round was barely an hour old when rain caused not only a three-hour delay, but forced officials to scrap the round and start over. That took two birdies away from Webb Simpson and two bogeys away from Zach Johnson. It didn’t really matter. Both were at the bottom of the pack, and one of them looked likely to miss out on a spot on the Presidents Cup team.