A desert critter saved leader Bubba Watson at least a stroke Saturday in the Phoenix Open. Some pigskin play cost Phil Mickelson to the chagrin of the rowdiest fans in the largest crowd in golf history.
The estimated 189,722 in attendance had a lot to see on a sunny, cool day at TPC Scottsdale.
Watson's drive on the par-5 13th went into a desert bush and settled next to a burrowing animal hole that would have interfered with his swing, giving him a free drop.
"Right next to my ball was a burrowing animal hole and my club was going to hit it at impact," Watson said. "So, I got a free drop and could easily wedge it out."
He hit a 150-yard shot to the fairway, followed with a wedge to the fringe and two-putted for par on the way to a 3-under 68 and a two-shot lead.
Without the free drop, he thought he could have played a shorter shot.
"I was looking at a 20- or 30-yard shot," he said.
Watson, winless since the 2012 Masters, was at 15-under 198.
Mickelson made a double bogey on the par-3 No. 16, the 20,000-seat stadium hole where he "lost focus" thinking about throwing footballs into the crowd. The defending champion half-shanked his tee shot left on the 128-yard hole. He followed with a weak flop shot into the bunker, blasted to 8 feet and two-putted.
"It was a gap wedge. It was pathetic," said Mickelson, who finished with a 72 to drop to 3 under.
The tournament set an attendance record for the fourth straight day. Since Monday, an estimated 502,776 people have attended the event. The record of 538,356 was set in 2008.
"It was packed out there," said Kevin Stadler, second after a 67. "It's something you only experience once a year."
European Tour: Defending champion Stephen Gallacher had seven birdies and an eagle on the back nine to surge past Rory McIlroy and take a two-shot lead at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Gallacher tied the tour record for the lowest nine-hole score with an inward 28 for a 9-under 63.
That gave him a 16-under total of 200, with McIlroy in second after 69. Tiger Woods was 11 shots back after a 70.
"This is the best back nine I've had in my career by far," said Gallacher, who began the day four shots behind McIlroy. "So to get myself back into contention when I needed to, and given the stature of this tournament, it feels good."
Woods, who won here in 2006 and 2008, had a disappointing day on the Emirates Golf Club greens. Woods had two bogeys and four birdies but missed a number of opportunities to pull closer.
"I only hit a couple of bad shots, (but) missed a ton of putts," said Woods, who was in a tie for 37th. "Really hit it good but just threw away a lot of shots."