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CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Sergio Garcia's spot on Ryder Cup was so secure. He was all but certain of getting to the Tour Championship. It was the perfect time for him to take a week off and make sure he had plenty of energy for a big September.
He looked better than ever at the BMW Championship.
Garcia holed a bunker shot for birdie, holed a short wedge for eagle and made a pair of big putts at the end for a 6-under 64. It gave him a one-shot lead over Ryan Palmer going into the weekend at Cherry Hills, with Rory McIlroy not far behind.
"I know myself after 15 years of running around," Garcia said. "I would love to play all four tournaments on the FedEx Cup, but I knew that it wasn't going to be good for me to start with — I was going to get tired of it. It wasn't going to be good coming into the Ryder Cup. So if the Ryder Cup wasn't there I would have probably made an effort, but I didn't feel like that was the right thing for me to do."
So he went to the Hamptons, played golf, went to the beach and had a good time."
Two days at Cherry Hills haven't been all that bad, either.
The only nuisance happened on the sixth green, and it had nothing to do with his golf. Garcia heard what he described as a series of beeps in his ear, and then a pop.
"It's happened before, but usually I kind of blow it and it gets back," he said. "But for some reason it just didn't feel quite the same. And it still doesn't, but it's definitely better. It was uncomfortable probably for five or six holes, and then it got a little bit better."
It didn't affect his golf He holed out the short wedge for eagle on the next hole.
Garcia was at 8-under 132.
Barring a charge that would make even Arnold Palmer proud, Phil Mickelson is playing his last PGA Tour event of the season. He twice hit into the water — making a triple bogey on the par-3 12th and a bogey on the 17th — and shot a 76. Mickelson, who needs to finish about fourth to qualify for the Tour Championship, was 14 shots behind and in a tie for 63rd in the 68-man field.
Jason Day withdrew on the ninth hole with a back injury and said he would try to be ready for the Tour Championship.
Garcia had one of several great finishes — birdie-par-birdie, though it felt like he picked up shots on every shot.
First, he made a 20-foot birdie on the 16th. He went for the green in two on the 17th and came up well short. With the tough 18th ahead of him, it looked as though he would lose his lead and perhaps even more ground. But he hit wedge to tap-in range for his par, and then made one of only six birdies on the closing hole at Cherry Hills.
"It's only Friday, so we still have two days to go," he said. "But it definitely helped my frame of mind going into the 18th tee, which today was playing quite hard. So it was nice to be able to get that up-and-down and then play 18 really well."
Palmer has been showing up on leaderboards over the last month — share of the first-round lead at the PGA Championship and an opening 63 last week in Boston. He thought the greens might be softer because of the rain, and he was right. Palmer saw a few approach shots on No. 1 and told his caddie the course would be there for the taking.
He waited until the end to grab it with four birdies in his last five holes.
"It was a great way to finish," he said. "I was glad I was one of the ones that shot low."
McIlroy also made a late surge after starting with one birdie, one bogey and 12 pars. He began to turn it around with a 30-foot birdie putt on the 15th, a 35-foot birdie putt on the 16th and a long two-putt birdie at the 17th.
He shot the same score and felt entirely different — finishing with two late bogeys one day, three late birdies the next.
"I feel much better coming off the golf course because I birdied three of the last four holes," McIlroy said. "I sort of struggled to get anything going today. It was a little cooler, so the ball wasn't going quite as far, a little bit of wind ... even though the course was softer, it still played pretty tough."
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan had a 67 and was among those four shots behind in a tie for fifth. Matsuyama is at No. 30 in the FedEx Cup. The top 30 after this week advance to the Tour Championship for a shot at the $10 million bonus.