It is less than two weeks before the United States 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 the tennis star Caroline Wozniacki after their wedding announcements were mailed.
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 Masters champion, Bubba Watson, once a magnet for conflict, is blessedly and blissfully a spectator to all the drama. After a three-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.
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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 penalized. “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 United States 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.
‘Have done nothing wrong’
Mickelson reiterated what he had said in a statement released early 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 United States Open. He has made it plain that his goal is to win more than one national 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. “Most of my rounds are, but just for other reasons.”